Rector's Ramblings April 1, 2020
Without making light of our situation, I do think there have been some upsides to this pandemic and its social distancing guidelines. In fact, it helps to find blessings where we can. One of them, for me, is that I can sit on my porch in pajama pants mid-morning, writing and making calls. That just doesn’t happen, normally. Don’t get me wrong - I’ll be more than ready to get back to normal, as soon as we can do it safely. This pandemic is deadly, and on top of that, is wreaking havoc with jobs, income, and a host of other unpleasant side effects. But I have to start somewhere when looking for things to celebrate, and today pajama pants made the list.
Although I’m waiting to work out the details, it’s clear that my sabbatical will be rescheduled. Not only do I want to be sure I’m in place for the parish during uncertain times, I don’t know that I’ll physically be able to do anything on the itinerary before July. Since I’ve written about sabbatical recently to explain it, perhaps one Rambling about un-sabbatical-ing is helpful, too. We all have things we are grieving right now, and the only way we get through these times is to be honest with ourselves about what it is we’re having to let go of and then letting go of it. I’ve had my down days about this crisis, to be sure. Understanding the scope of the crisis has come in waves for me, as it has for many of us. One wave was about changing summer plans, but it wasn’t the biggest one. At the end of the day, my hope and prayer is for the health and safety of those I love. If I have that I don’t need anything else. In this regard, pandemic is once again borrowing from the hurricane lesson book in recent years. We’re learning the hard way what’s really important.
Pajamas aside, I have been working intentionally and prayerfully to find the blessings in these days. There is so much to worry about or to grieve, and I can’t get lost in those places. Not indefinitely, anyway. I have to find the upside and the silver lining for the sake of my own sanity, and for my faith as well. If it’s true that we find God with us in difficult times, and I believe it is, we need to be able to name it and thank God for it. As I combine the competing realities of these days, I have found a place to give thanks as I let go of hopes and expectations for this time and embrace a new reality instead.
I did a lot of research as we planned my sabbatical. One of the things I researched was what happens when people – couples and families – go full time in an RV. After all, most RVs are not that big. Even big RVs might only provide four hundred-ish square feet (the one we were renting is smaller than that). That’s not a lot of space for a family and three dogs for nearly three months. There aren’t bedroom doors for everyone, for example. Privacy on the whole is redefined; the bathroom is close to…well, everything else. Sure, you can get outside in good weather, but in bad weather, you’re confined to the small space. “Togetherness” is unavoidable. Togetherness also comes with some risks!
Going from the normal world into full-time RVing is enough of a challenge that a number of people have written about it to help others navigate the emotional processes involved. Let’s be honest: our social distancing practices are very similar to what I was going to be doing this summer anyway. Being with the family was one of the highlights of the experience. We’re still getting that time, albeit in different ways. It doesn’t come with the scenery or the adventure. In fact, being in the house together is easier and more normal than RVing will be, so our experience of togetherness is a little bit more manageable. We aren’t likely to find ourselves in the middle of nowhere when we realize we’re driving each other nuts. When that happens now, we can just retreat to our “space”, probably with a dog, and catch our breath.
In researching full-time RVing, I learned some things that might help us adjust. I also think that learning can help others weather this new, if temporary, reality. For example; those who have done it speak of the importance of communicating well when in close proximity. Annoyance can turn to anger, which can turn to resentment if we don’t voice our concerns in a timely, constructive manner. With no place to hide, we might find ourselves needing to talk things through in new and different ways to keep the peace. New RV-ers are told to expect the unexpected, too. To prepare, mentally, for things we didn’t plan on to come up. I’d say that translates to today. Each day seems to bring more news we hadn’t realized was coming. Everything normal is suddenly different and more challenging. Accepting that and giving ourselves “permission” to deal with it as such is helpful.
It’s also good advice to be flexible. We can make all the plans we want, but it won’t always work out that way. Cultivating flexibility lets us roll with the punches as they come. Sometimes we choose flexibility, and sometimes it’s forced upon us! Seriously, though, we are all learning that we have to be able to live with uncertainty and adjust on the fly during these times. It’s hard to make plans for much of anything. Getting back to the togetherness experience, it’s also helpful to take time-outs and find breathing space. Granting everyone the opportunity to have some alone time in the house or out walking is essential. Even the most extroverted extrovert can benefit from a solo walk now and then. Making sure we give that necessity intentional thought and then act on it is important.
The last insight I have in this regard is one of the ways our RV trip would have been different from a typical full-timer who is doing it permanently as a way of life. We were going to be able to look forward to “coming home”. Full time RV-ers have typically sold their homes to finance their lifestyle on the road. Their RV is their home. For us, despite the anticipation of adventure along the way, I knew we were going to be ready to come home and get back to normal after a while. These days hold the same light at the end of the tunnel. We can’t say when yet, but there will be a time when we “get home” to normal again. Between now and then, it won’t all be darkness and gloom either, even with ups and downs and unexpected developments.
It’s not likely that we’ll find so many personal blessings in these days that we will one day decide it was worth all the loss and anxiety of these pandemic days. (I do think we will look back and celebrate the cost not realized had we ignored warnings about this virus.) Nothing will make this pandemic “good.” It will always be remembered first as a time of struggle. Of that I have no doubt. And yet, because God is good and because God goes with us, the loss will be tempered by blessing and insight and growth. I know it, even if I can’t see it yet. There will be a day when I put my pajama pants aside and get up and out of the house first thing in the morning, shaved and ready for the day ahead like I used to be just a few weeks ago. I’ll be grateful for that day when it does come, knowing it will feel like coming home to do so. It won’t be tomorrow, or even next week, though. Instead, and for now, I’m asking God to help me make the most of what today holds. That’s really the only choice I have.
God of compassion,
be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.
In their loneliness, be their consolation;
in their anxiety, be their hope;
in their darkness, be their light;
through him who suffered alone on the cross,
but reigns with you in glory,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Photo Credits: “Pajama pants,” free via pikrepo.com. “Silver lining,” free via wikemedia.com. “Anger,” free via madstreetz at flickr.com, license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/.