Midweek Musing - Coming out of the Storm
The last few days were supposed to be days where I experienced great freedom and joy. They were supposed to be days where I felt the weight lifted from my shoulder as I had been praying earnestly for this time to come. They were supposed to bring comfort and peace and yet…
And yet as the good news of my freedom to walk around the world unmasked after the Center for Disease Control’s new guidance was released, this feeling really did not emerge. For while the CDC said it is safe (and yes, I trust their science) I still feel nervous. I still feel weary and tired. Fear weighs upon me. To be blunt—without the mask I feel a bit vulnerable.
It reminded me of what athletes often note after they return from a significant injury. While the doctor can give them a clean bill of health and the tests on the injured area can show it back to 100%, until they actually make an athletic play using that area in a game, doubt remains in the back of their mind.
All of this is frustrating for me because I earnestly prayed for this day to come. And I am grateful to God and to the scientists and doctors and others who have created a vaccine to help protect us, just as vaccines have done for other plagues like smallpox and measles and polio.
And it frustrates me that while I trusted the scientific community and masked up, sheltered in place and used my weight in hand sanitizer and soap, I am struggling now…even while believing in these very same folks.
I suddenly resemble the words from Mark’s gospel which I use in the prayer I say at the end of my sermons: “I believe; help my unbelief.”
Alas, my mask still stays with me…whether on a lanyard or around my neck or on my face. When others come to me masked, I put it on. And still when I get close to a group of folks or someone comes in my office, I more often than not put it on.
I can say it is out of respect for others—and it is a little bit—but mostly it for my comfort. Like Linus in Peanuts and his blue security blanket.
I am struggling with the why of my feelings. I want to let go and let my smile go wide with a mask nowhere in sight, but I am not there yet.
I think I now know what the disciple Thomas felt when others proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead and he was not there to experience it. Thomas gets known as doubting Thomas for his failure to blindly believe. Perhaps I am doubting Clay yelling out, “until I see the virus repelled back like a Venus Williams forehand down the line for a winner, I will wear a mask.”
And yet Thomas’s doubts are rational and legitimate. And for those of us struggling with moving out of this stormy time of a global pandemic, I think our doubts are too.
I remember at the height of the pandemic seeing a statement all over the internet saying we should be unified because we are “all in the same boat.”
While I appreciated the sentiment, I saw a rebuttal to that statement in the form of a cartoon that deeply resonated with me. In the cartoon it showed ships sailing and other floatation devices in stormy seas. Some vessels were yachts which seemed to be doing just fine. Others were row boats and dinghies which looked as if they could capsize any minute, and there were people in the sea hanging on to pieces of wreckage to barely keep above water.
The statement below this picture said we are all in different boats but in the same storm.
The cartoon’s point is profound and clear. Everyone’s life experience is different whether it is in times of turbulence or of calm waters.
This has indeed been the case during Covid-19. Some have experienced immeasurable loss. Others have only been inconvenienced. Some have experienced financial ruin and others have had sudden unexpected windfalls. Some of us had previous experiences which caused them to have great trepidation while others wondered what all the fuss was about.
And it is not just about things like Covid. As a male I would be wrong to tell a woman to get over sexual harassment or misconduct or act as if it were not real or a problem, simply because it is not something I have experienced.
And as a heterosexual cisgender man I would be wrong to tell others that they must act in a particular way or claim that their fears to be who they are in society are unfounded.
And as a member of the white race in the United States I would be wrong to deny racism or bigotry exist any longer, or claim that racism and xenophobia do not continue to impact individuals and institutions—simply because I have not experienced them.
In each of these cases, my boat is different from others, and thus I experience the seas differently than many others do.
Just like Thomas was on a different vessel and thus sailing a different course, which caused him to miss Jesus’s first appearance in that upper room that the other disciples experienced. So too, we all experience the events of life differently, even if we seem to be going through them together.
I know many folks probably had mask-burning parties and used the flames to light firecrackers as they sang the Hallelujah Chorus. And for those folks I do not deny their experience and I would be wrong to criticize them. In fact, I rejoice for them.
However, I also hope for those of us whose fear and grief are holding on that we too will be given the encouragement to walk our walk. As well as be given the space to let it happen.
And I hope and pray we will let folks have this type of space and grace in all areas of life, especially when their point of view is different than theirs.
An old African American Spiritual has been playing in my head as I have written this musing. It is entitled, I’ve been in the Storm so Long.
The chorus says: I've been in the storm so long, I've been in the storm so long, children, I've been in the storm so long, Oh give me little time to pray. click to hear a beautiful version of this song
For all people who have ridden through or are still riding storms, while holding on to life rafts, may we give them space to heal and perhaps even find ways to help strengthen their vessels for future voyages and the stormy seas which inevitably come into all of our lives.