Sunday, March 14, 2021

Coming Out the Other End

March 15, 2020 was the last worship gathering we had in our sanctuary space. Genevieve was barely mobile. We stood during coffee hour, distanced from one another (as you can see from the pic barely showing our feet). After worship, my family went to go spend a couple days with my parents. It was the last time Ben and I went out on a date, if you can call restaurant hopping down Forest Ave in Portland and panic buying supplies at Veranda Asian Market a proper romantic outing.

I am thankful that the church had already started having conversations on Chebeague about how to organize a response to the virus in our community. Early on we partnered with the Island Council reminding folks of the resources in the community, encouraging folks to make sure they had supplies of their prescriptions, offering to connect folks who needed help with technology, getting a list of mainland go-fers and volunteers for necessities., reminding folks to be in touch with their healthcare providers if they had any questions. Our food pantry ramped up quickly as Stay-at-Home orders were put in place so that people could have access to food to limit exposure on the mainland. Those early days of the pandemic were a whirlwind of figuring out how to do this without daycare, while preparing for Easter in this weird pandemic reality where we knew so little and what we did know seemed to change from day to day. It was energizing and exhausting and I will forever be grateful for those who came together around our family to help us see it through that time. We all did this for one another.

The summer afforded some degree of normalcy for our family, though the continued lack of daycare was a struggle. At least we could get outside, enjoy the sun and the water, and had some quarantine-before-we-went vacations with each side of our family. COVID testing was available on the island - thanks to the church being the fiscal sponsor of a grant that some dedicated medical professionals put together to serve the island.

What saved our family, however, was daycare and in-person school opening in the fall. What a privilege to have our school numbers be at a place where social-distancing was possible, and where we had a staff dedicated to cleaning, creativity, outdoor learning, and so much more. They have been rock stars and deserve all the praise and gratitude. What a gift to have a Kids' Place open again to create a nurturing environment for the island's youngest residents. The staff there have made such a wonderful safe haven for the littles and it lifts my heart when Genevieve bounds in the door, excited to be there. Both of these critical island resources have saved our family's sanity over and over and over again this winter.

Certainly there are a lot of personal lessons I am taking away from this year - that I am far more resilient than I thought, that asking for help is something I can do, that time with family is precious and fleeting (after all, Genevieve went from being a baby with chunky legs to a full force toddler in this time), that when faced with being tired and miserable or just tired - always pick being tired, just to name a few of them.

But what I also learned after a year of navigating the pandemic with this community is just how lucky I am to live here. So many people and organizations found ways to adapt to the challenges of this time. Technology played a huge part in this, and our island does desperately need better access to the internet. But neighbor-to-neighbor connection got us through as well, with people checking in with one another, going on walks together, forming pods together, and lending helping hands wherever they could. It was hard and contentious at times - as life on Chebeague can definitely be at times - but with the light at the end of the tunnel, we will make it through together.

I haven't given a ton of thought to post-pandemic life; I probably should so I'm not swept up in patterns that I don't want to continue. In the after-time, I plan on saying "no" a lot more, that's for sure. I think the church should wrestle with these things as well, even as we have this major change of disaffiliation from the UMC before us.

I wonder, though, if organizations (and the town?) shouldn't have these conversations as well. How do we want to be going forward? Do we have to go back 100% to how things were before everything shut down? What from this time can we carry with us - and what can we leave in the past, both from the pandemic *and* from life before?

I know that this summer will still be different - the vaccine, while huge, isn't the key to fixing everything. We'll still need to wear masks and practice good hygiene and keep distance. We don't know how long the vaccine is effective for or how well it does against the variants, even as we know it does a good job protecting against severe illness and death. But my hope and prayer is that we won't be so eager to get back to "normal" that we forget what we've learned or that we don't take the time to hold the grief so many have experienced because of COVID. I hope that we will be gentle with ourselves, easing back into rhythms and routines that are healthier for us, for our families, for our communities, and for our planet.

[Two images: the first is mostly bare wood floor, with shoes pointing in from the edges of the picture, showing social distancing. It was taken on March 15, 2020. The second is from March 14, 2021, and shows me with a huge cup of coffee in my Mr. Rogers mug, sitting in my office, right before Zoom worship begins].

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