It’s a curious thing, to be surrounded by people but still separated. Even for a devoted introvert like me, there is a desire to communicate, to greet neighbors and acknowledge strangers as we move through our days. It’s easy to prioritize connections with family and colleagues and dear friends, but there’s no person from 24B on my morning conference call. There’s no barista on zoom.
Perhaps this is what I was missing when I cut out a giant heart to put in my apartment window. It was also a little experiment, since I live in a big building and was wondering if I would be able to see the heart from the street. Turns out, yes! You can see it from the street.
Even better, over the following week a wonderful thing happened. A whole bunch of neighbors from the apartment building across the street put hearts in their windows too. One even put, “hello!” in big block cut-outs. Now every time I look out the window, I see a flurry of neighborly greetings.
It occurs to me that these neighbors might think I am five years old.
But so what? Aren’t we all really five years old, just trying to figure things out? I am thinking that life might be easier if I were more patient with my own inner kid. Sometimes, we all just need a snack, or a nap, or a hug. Sometimes, we need to jump or sing or dance, or to make a giant paper heart.
Dear ones, let’s look for ways to care for the five year olds among us – no matter their actual age.
Years ago, we had a big anniversary party for my grandparents, who at that point had been married for sixty-five years. The whole room was packed with Colllinses, eating and talking and laughing.
I was able to sit by my grandpa for a little while and he looked around the big noisy room and turned to me, saying, “Just look at this family! You know, Kate, I never thought I could be so lucky.”
At the time I thought this was awfully sweet, but as the years have passed I realize that this observation was way more than sweet.
Friends, what a topsy-turvy time this is. Some parts of life right now are murky and the future seems full of mist and clouds. In many ways this is not a lucky time at all, as we are surrounded by suffering both big and small, in forms that might be new to us – or newly noticed.
I’m thinking of my grandpa and wondering if maybe that’s the point. He certainly saw suffering both big and small, and experienced his fair share directly, too. Maybe this is one reason he was able to see his good fortune so clearly, and with such straightforward gratitude.
Dear ones, when the day comes for us to say, I never thought I could be so lucky, will we know it? Will we feel it? Will we say it?
Despite the foggy and anxious circumstances, despite the somber headlines and the deep pain that surrounds us, despite the absolute absurdity of snow in mid-April, it’s possible that the day is today.
Friends, may we all be so lucky.
Like many, I have picked up a new hobby lately, amateur virology. I’ve plotted exponential curves of terrible statistics, pored over journal articles, re-learned basic biological lessons, and been part of call after call with scientific experts.
Science is a comfort and a joy. It gives a structure for learning, helps us to quickly adapt to new circumstances, and gives us models for recovery. When done especially well, science also illuminates the other parts that are needed, like capacity for reflection, and compassion, and connection.
But the waiting, the getting from here to there – this part is hard. After three days of rain and endless worries, new and old, and weeks spent connecting in one disembodied way after another, all the science in the world is still not enough. Even the best-stocked pantry of personal wherewithal still falls short.
In this stage of weirdly collective isolation, we need one more ingredient. In this holiest of weeks, as the birdsong gets louder and the daffodils get brighter, we need to believe in progress and emergence, in recovery and renewal.
Dear ones, behind the clouds, the sun is rising.
We need to keep the faith.
One of my favorite words from divinity school is “liminality” – it’s a description of the betwixt-and-between, the neither-here-nor-there. The gap between life and death is liminal space. The pause before the chorus Good Vibrations is a liminal space.
There are just three rules for liminal space, as far as I can tell.
First, we’re not allowed to stay. Liminal spaces are not permanent.
Second, we can’t go backwards. Only through.
Third, in the liminality, amazing things are possible.
Dear ones, we are in strange times, betwixt and between. I’m drinking the same coffee, but the beans were handed to me in a silent parking lot by a shop worker in gloves and mask. I’m doing the same daily work, but my colleagues are all pixels.
Here is the good news, according to the rules above:
We will exit this liminal state eventually.
We will go through, not back.
Right now, in the liminality, we are in a space of immense potential.
What do we choose?
In impossible times, impossible things are possible.
We have had a lot of uncertainty and unknowing recently, and it’s showing. My social media feed is full of baking and hiking, and also full of suffering and prayers and data. Every day I visit one particular tree, and every day I update a spreadsheet of some of the saddest numbers I’ve ever seen.
We are all searching for understanding, but there is something more too: we are all searching for safety. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard references to indicators that show well, it’s way over there, and then well, it’s only very old people, and then well, it’s only very sick people, and then well, it’s only smokers, well, it’s only people who are overweight, well, it’s just my one friend or my relative… by now it’s too close and we all have to let these analytical illusions fall and admit, here we are.
Friends, there is no other place. There is no other group. There is no other.
Yes, let’s draw our loved ones close.
All of them.
That’s the safest thing to do.
* Einstein wrote this in a letter to a grieving father who had just lost his son. You can read wonderful reflections on this idea from Maria Popova of BrainPickings, and can learn more about the original text and its popular mis-quoting on the OnBeing site.