Sunday, March 29, 2020

a COVID-19 confession of being ordinary

“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” -- Victor Hugo

I am not doing anything very significant right now.  I wake each morning thinking I ought to join some great movement to provide aid or relief to people, or perhaps to find a way despite social distancing to share uplifting music with others, or at the very least to deliver handwritten notes to each of our neighbors, but somehow each day seems to bring with it enough on my proverbial plate.  It is enough just to keep my children fed and cared for, to prepare for the rapidly approaching arrival of our fourth child, to keep our home from falling into chaos.

I am not doing great things, and if I am honest with myself, I am not even heeding Mother Theresa's call to "do small things with great love," for sometimes I cannot seem to summon in myself the great love.  There are in fact times in each day when I'm doing small things not with great love but with great impatience, or with great annoyance, or even with great bitterness.

I am sitting at the table, three meals a day, reminding children to chew with their mouths closed, to not interrupt one another, sometimes just to take another bite without complaint.  I am ushering children into coats and boots to take them out of doors for a walk, and wondering why at least one of them seems to be fussing at any given moment.  I am folding loads of laundry daily, and loading the dishwasher again the minute it's been run and emptied.  I am reading aloud through frequent irritating interruptions.  I am wiping hands and bottoms, giving baths, and reminding these small people, over and over, of the the rules and expectations of our family.  It does not feel like a great thing, this life of mine, but somehow, nonetheless, it can be enough to exhaust me.

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The world is a weighty place, and we are all feeling it right now.  People are sick and some are even dying.  We are staying home, and we are waiting as the data unfolds in real time.  Knowing that the numbers represent real lives and deaths.

But there are beautiful things happening too, even if I'm not contributing to them.

In the past week, I've been touched by a few things personally: a delivery to my doorstep of a bag of flour when Nathan couldn't find any at the store; a package of my favorite almond butter cups from Trader Joe's brought to my porch; conversations held through the doorway; a friend bringing a gift for our new baby; a bunch of forsythia from a friend's yard; another doorstep delivery of labor and postpartum supplies.  And in my gratitude for these moments of mine, I've also been humbled in the realization that I have not done very much for others lately.

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Nathan's work must feel, I think, more meaningful than any of mine at a time like this.  The music he coordinates for Sunday worship services has become a lifeline to many people right now, with more than a thousand people tuning in to the livestream each Sunday to hear the music as well as the sermon and to participate, such as they can, in worship.  

For my own work, my spring gigs have all been canceled.  I'm continuing to teach violin, albeit virtually for the time being.  Two weeks ago I could never have imagined that I would someday feel strangely thrilled to see the faces of students on my computer, to feel that saying hello to a middle schooler or chatting briefly with a beginning student playing Twinkle would become a bit of a lifeline, a glimpse of humanity outside my own door.



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Life is changed for all of us right now, in our work lives and in our home lives.  And isolation, I am learning, is not always good even for an introvert such as myself.  Even for us, a family who already homeschooled and thus was accustomed to life with children home all the time, nothing feels very normal right now.  Our rhythms and routines are disrupted.  And where things do manage to continue as normal, a blanket of anxiety can threaten to envelop me at any moment of the day.

If I read too many news articles in one day, I can feel the creeping fears -- While we are hoping to have a home birth, will I somehow end up delivering in a hospital situation where my husband is not permitted to be with me?  Will my family and friends be able to remain healthy through this epidemic?  How many will have lives inevitably altered by this, either by disease or by financial ramifications?  I have to put down my computer, go outside for a bit and breathe the fresh air, try to find a sense of normalcy.

Amidst these global concerns, I am confronted daily with my own pettiness and selfishness.  I think of things I had wanted to do before the baby comes -- updating the framed pictures from eight years ago hanging on the living room walls, changing a few decor things to create a space I'll enjoy being in when I'm nursing a new baby.  And yet, a trip to Michaels to update my walls or even a trip to Target for baby essentials is suddenly not possible, or at least not advisable.  I find myself feeling a petty sense of self-pity that I won't be able to take the new baby out in the near future, won't be able to go through a Starbucks drive-through on a particularly wearying day, won't be able to see any friends in those early newborn days.  I know that none of these things are particularly weighty problems in light of a world battling a global disease, nurses overworked and patients dying, and yet I cannot seem to help feeling them.

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This morning a timely online sermon reminded me that God never promises that we won't be in the valley of the shadow of death.  But he promises that he will be with us.  The presence of God.  I want it to be tangible right now, to myself and to my children, but instead some days I feel as though I'm reaching around in the darkness unable to quite grasp ahold of his presence.  I'm grieved that we won't be able to go to church during Holy Week or for Easter.  And while I usually love celebrating these special times and observing them in many ways in our home life, instead of feeling empowered or energized right now to do this even more for my family, I feel... tired.  Overwhelmed.  Isolated.  Sad.

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So, I'm not doing great things.  Today's small accomplishments included beginning a good and timely chapter book with my kids, and baking two loaves of sourdough bread that, for the first time in a couple of weeks, actually rose beautifully and turned out nicely.  With the heat in our house only working sporadically, along with a shortage of flour until recently, I have had depressingly dense loaves lately.  So it felt like a victory to have this morning's loaves bake up the way I wanted them to at last.



We dipped chunks of fresh sourdough into homemade hummus tonight, and we were grateful.

God reminded me of his presence in a loaf of bread today - our daily bread, our needs provided for.



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So this is me today, right now: not inspirational, not a world-changer.  Just getting through each day, tired and rather hugely pregnant, waiting for the time each evening when I can fall into bed.  Despite a million clever and creative ideas flooding the internet with things we could all be doing with our children lately, I am just maintaining the normal around here for the most part.  Not doing spectacular craft projects with my children, not making medical supplies, certainly not nursing patients back to health or even brightening anyone's day, really.

Just baking two loaves of bread and feeding my husband and children.

The pastor I listened to online earlier today said this, repeating advice he was once given when he had reached a low point: "Be faithful.  Do the next thing that you're supposed to do, and do it well."

So I shall continue to do the little things I've been given to do each day, even on the days when all is grey and rainy and my tasks feel unimportant.  And when I have accomplished my tasks, I will go to sleep, because sleep is something I seem to require a lot of right now.  And I will remember Victor Hugo's words: "God is awake."  He is present.

Friends, if any of you are like me, and not feeling that you are accomplishing great things in these difficult days, you are not alone.  Remember that the little things matter, and remember most of all that you can go to sleep after your day's labors, knowing that God is present with us and he does not sleep.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you. Beautifully and articulately written. I needed to read something like this.

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  2. Thank you! A friend's mention of your post landed me here. I've been struggling with similar feelings of being too ordinary, too small. Your words lifted me up!

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