Saturday, March 28, 2020

For How Long?

I wonder if the same three words haunt you, too.  

Looks like you won’t be going back to school, kids.  (For how long?)

Guess I’ll be working from home beginning Monday.  (For how long?)

I found eggs!  This should last us a while.  (For how long?)

I’m doing ok.  I can handle this.  (For how long?)

Truth is, the individual days themselves haven’t seemed so bad.  I’m wholly aware of how fortunate I am to be able to say that.  I married a good guy, and I enjoy his company.  For the most part, I think he enjoys mine.  My kids are home and I like them an awful lot, too.  In between Zoom meetings and distance learning and conference calls, we’ve finished a puzzle together.  We take long daily walks. We smile and wave at strangers and they smile and wave back.  We’re watching The Great British Baking Show from start to finish.  We have plenty of food.  (Ok, it’s mostly a giant stack of tortillas, but we have food.)

And yet…

It’s the “for how long?” refrain that plants a pit in my stomach.  How long before I can walk into my parents’ house again without fear of making them sick?  How long before I can see my sister?  How long before I can pick up my phone and not feel dreadfully compelled to consult an exponentially increasing line graph?

I generally consider challenging things “endurable” so long as they have a set finish line. 

5k races.


Holding my breath during a mammogram x-ray. 

Elementary school concerts.

But when “how long?” is met with silence, or confusion, or a brutally honest “no one really knows,” a challenge can feel damn near impossible.  This morning I let a friend know I was struggling.

“The how long part is the worst,” I confessed.

“You know,” she replied, “that’s very biblical.”

(Pastors, amiright?  Even at 9 am on a Saturday they can’t shut it off.)

So I literally typed “how long Bible” into the search bar and up popped Psalm 13. Trust me, you don’t have to be religious, or even believe in God, for that matter, to get something out of this one:

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? Look on me and answer, LORD my God.  

I know as much about the Bible as most Catholic high school graduates, which isn't saying a whole helluva lot.  I know the word itself means “song,” and I know they’re often set to music or chanted in both Christian and Jewish services.  I sense this particular singer has endured something miserable for quite some time.  His patience is wearing thin.  He’s getting a bit antsy…even angry…and he wants an answer to his question, dammit. 

Just like many of us right now.

And guess what?  He doesn’t get one.  Here’s how the Psalm continues:  

But I trust in your unfailing love.

You see, this is why people get so pissed off about the Bible.  The answer to “How long?” is “But I trust."   

That’s, like, not even an answer. 

Unless that’s precisely the point.

Maybe fear and anxiety and suffering isn’t about how long.  Maybe it’s not about endurance.  Maybe it’s about trust.  And maybe it’s helpful to frame things that way for a minute.

Endurance demands a lot of us.  We have to be strong to endure.  We have to fortify our bunkers and tighten our muscles and keep our anxieties in check.  Trust is completely different.  Trust is about letting go. Trust isn't about self-reliance;  it's about interdependence and human connection.  And while I’ve had some hot mess moments over the last few weeks trying to endure the challenges of an unfolding pandemic, I’ve also had some incredible glimpses of what trusting in unfailing love looks like.

I bet you’ve seen it, too, so I won’t bother linking to viral clips of neighbors gathering six feet apart on the sidewalk singing “Happy Birthday” to a six-year old.  Or the husband holding up a “thank you for saving my wife’s life” sign to the glass window of an Emergency Room.

Instead I’ll narrow my experience down to just yesterday.  And not even all of yesterday.  This is some of the love I witnessed on one 40-minute walk with my husband:

I saw my friend Tammy, who was delivering a box of rice to our friend Joe.   

I saw a brother and sister spreading out hand-painted rocks on a beach towel on their front lawn.  “Come take one!” they said, stepping back to maintain a six-foot distance.  “They’re for free!”   

I saw my friend Pam, whose first question was, “Is your mom alright?”   

I saw Michelle and Riley, honking and yelling from their car that they can’t wait for Sunday night’s Zoom meeting. 

I saw stuffed animals propped in windows and hope-filled messages chalked on driveways.

And that's not an exhaustive list.  

How long will this last?  We don’t know.  No one does.  So I think it's perfectly okay to feel the pit in our stomachs. It's ok to feel our anxiety growing and our patience wearing thin.  And it's ok to keep demanding answers. 

But it’s also important to accept that the answers may not come…at least not anytime soon.  And in the meantime, even when answers fail us, we can trust that love does not. 

The "Hope Rock' we selected. And yes, I washed my hands.

Friday, March 20, 2020

So I Married a Prepper

I don't mean to sound all 1950’s about the whole thing, but my husband is the family provider. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I do my fair share of supporting the four of us.  Over the years, I have secured such lucrative positions as “volunteer board president for a start-up non-profit,” “adjunct lecturer at a state university,” and “part-time youth director at a local Congregational church.”  Despite the tens of dollars I rake in each week, Mark has insisted on providing our family with still more. 

Which is why it shouldn’t surprise me that during this global crisis, he has voluntarily extended his role of family provider to include the responsibilities of family “prepper.”

I didn’t even know the word existed until a month ago.

Preppers, it turns out, have been prepping for a long time.  They build subterranean bunkers stocked with personal water filtration systems, medical kits, 50-pound bags of rice, propane, firewood, firearms, and something called a “sun oven.”  My husband, new as he is to prepping, has amassed none of those things.

His cache includes eleven bags of BBQ-flavor Pop Chips, twenty-four canisters of Crystal Lite lemonade mix, and a jar of yeast specifically packaged “for bread machines.”

Reader, we do not own a bread machine.

As nervous as we all are about what’s happening, and about what could happen, Mark is the first to admit he’s handling it worst of all.  I’ve banned him from making Amazon Prime purchases without permission.  I’ve encouraged him to practice “exposure response prevention” by walking past a half-gallon of milk we don’t need, and leaving it on the shelf for someone who needs it more.  His WebEx calls are professional and on point, but he cannot be trusted to walk through Price Chopper alone.  I’ve pointed out to him repeatedly, and I hope lovingly, that his temporary lunacy arises from a very real threat to his provider instinct.  He wants to make sure we’ll all be ok.  It is killing him that he cannot make sure of that.

After reassuring him of the unquestionably noble source of his anxiety, I’ve done what any good wife would do:  I’ve laughed at him. 

And the boys have joined in.

Yesterday a package arrived from Amazon.  He swore it was the last of the purchases made before my “ban” went into effect.  He glanced at the three of us sheepishly before opening it, and made us promise not to make fun of him when we saw what was inside, because he could not remember what he had panic-purchased.

We promised. 

(We lied.)

It was like getting a present from Santa, if Santa was a drunken amnesiac.  Mark carefully sliced the box open and lifted the contents for all of us to see.


“Dad,” Brian said, exasperated.  “Are you kidding me?  Our refrigerator is already 45% tortillas.”

Mark snort laughed.  

And that’s how I know we’ll be ok.  Not that we won’t get sick, or be scared, or be scarred in possibly permanent ways by this pandemic.  But as long as we can still laugh, both with and at one another, we will at least be us.  

Our family went through our own crisis nine years ago.  One minute, it was situation normal.  Then suddenly, and without warning, we slammed into a brick wall at full speed.  For the next several months we intentionally retreated from coworkers, from extended family, and from all but a few of our closest friends.  We “turtled up,” as Mark dubbed it then.  Today, we’d call it social distancing.   

As much as we agreed isolation was the best course of action for us, there were times it felt as damaging as the illness.

And then one day we discovered a weapon in our arsenal we’d forgotten.  It was a very wise doctor who pointed it out to us, and who gave us permission to use it.

We’d forgotten our sense of humor.

It seemed irreverent and irresponsible to laugh during that time.  But slowly, and timidly, we tried it anyway.  And I swear every time one of us laughed, our "family spine" straightened a bit.  Humor didn’t shrink the threat we were facing, but it made us all feel a bit taller, and a little more up to the task.

We do not have a hospital-grade medical kit or a sun oven in our arsenal. But we’ve been honing and stockpiling our sense of humor for years, because we learned it’s pretty essential to our survival.  (That and Crystal Lite lemonade, apparently.)  It’s who we are.  And it’s one of the ways we’ll do our best to get through this, however long “this” lasts. 

And now if you’ll excuse me, I believe that's Mark’s powdered milk delivery at the door.