In April 2020, I wandered our local Walmart pushing a cart of odds and ends.
I always feel a little separate from myself when I’m shopping, but this time, with the “lock down” extended another three weeks, my fellow shoppers mirrored my wide-eyed uncertainty.
Toilet paper, flour, dry beans, hand sanitizer…what else? What else?
Finding few of the items I’d set out for, I ambled in a sort of dazed fascination for hours. On the picked over school supplies aisle, I found a new journal. If nothing else, I could at least keep a record of these strange days. This outing alone would fill pages.
It’s funny now, to read what I wrote. The compulsion to buy a separate journal in which to record the Covid weeks had seemed a little late. In the first entry, in addition to recounting my trip to Walmart, I sketched out a disciplined life schedule for the remaining weeks of “lock down.”
If the quarantine really does end in three weeks (18 days to May 4th), what habits do I want to have set in motion? Because I have definitely not carved out new habits in this season, this month of social distancing.
Apparently, I felt guilty for not making the most of the gift of time handed to me. Ten months and 221 pages later, I’m due for a new journal.
Calling a Time Out
I am in the kids are grown up and leaving home phase of parenthood. The predictable routines of childhood days have passed. These years are tender and whip by fast. One day they’re in 8th grade, the next they’re off to college.
I have had a habit of losing myself in projects to avoid the sadness that fringes each child’s “last” year at home. I decided not do that this time around, and so, I started my fourth and last child’s senior year with a sincere desire to pace myself and process all the feelings that came up along the way.
Entering the fall of 2019, my resolve didn’t last.
In addition to the start of the senior year marathon, I was launching my first book (you get the timing you’re given). And by Christmas, we knew my father-in-law was dying.
It was too much.
Costume a theatre production? Why not? Relaunch a podcast? Sure. Travel all over the country for college tours and auditions? Yes! Anything other than sitting with the sadness.
But as predictable as drowning my sorrows with busyness is, so comes the ensuing sense of being swept along way, way too fast. By the middle of January, I was begging for a time out. I got a brief one with a flu that sent me to bed for a week or two, but the trouble with a personal time out is that nothing else stops.
Events don’t stop. School doesn’t stop. Church doesn’t stop. Concerts, recitals, performances, graduations, calls, appointments, flights, deadlines, interviews, applications, essays, pick up this, order that, write this…
Please, God! If everything and everyone could just stop for a minute, I could catch my breath!
And it happened.
Italy shut down. The NBA cancelled games. Tom Hanks got Covid. The dominoes tumbled. And the entire world agreed to a time out.
Longing for a Year of Jubilee
Not knowing how long our “time out” would be, the 30 days to make a habit goal seemed like a reasonable idea. With everything in all my life either cancelled or postponed, I sketched out temporary daily and weekly schedules on page 3 of my journal. Surely, I could manage this one thing.
Wrong. Fasting from sugar and wheat lasted ten days. An injured achilles kept me from a daily walk out of doors. I got a boil on my face, a swollen salivary gland, and a wretched toothache. In short, my body reminded me that even with a hard stop, I could not keep up.
I needed more than three weeks or three months. What I longed for, was a Year of Jubilee.
In the book of Leviticus, along with a weekly Sabbath, God gave Israel instructions for longer rest periods: a Sabbatical for the land every seven years, and after seven of those Sabbatical cycles, the 50th year was to be a year of Jubilee.
That meant at least once or twice in your lifetime, there would be a nationwide release from debt, rest from work, and a return home of your extended family. (Leviticus 25) An entire year dedicated to rest and reunion.
But the pandemic year has been far from a Year of Jubilee. Rather than being united in a year of rest, divisions deepened. 2020 became a year of strife in families, in the church, in the community, the country, and the world.
Grief hung over the year for so many: death, separation, loss, uncertainty, disconnection… Recitals, awards, graduations, celebrations—none of our traditional celebrations were normal. (I hope we will remember that it is possible to celebrate and take joy—and pride—in accomplishments without hearing applause or seeing standing ovations.)
Three of our four grown kids lived at home as their colleges and workplaces shut down. As much as I loved hibernating, my 18 & 20 year old boys did not. Hours and afternoons and evenings in isolation took a toll.
In the pages of my pandemic journal, the self-chastisement has become a story of a sort of Jubilee, of homecoming and rest.
I couldn’t recall the last time everyone in our house was home for dinner and on a predictable schedule. At least ten years, maybe more. We lingered over these meals, and didn’t shy away from hard conversations.
Doing puzzles together brought out what was going on in the earbuds, in the eyes, in the heart. We learned that each of us grieves in our own way.
We read. We baked. We listened to audiobooks. And we rested. We floated a river. And harvested a ridiculous abundance of berries. One of my sons revived an old boat. I painted my front door Navy blue. We played new games. My husband learned to love cooking and baking. He built window boxes for me and attached them to the house. He worked on his truck. And we watched his father fade over Zoom.
Because the world had stopped, we slowed down enough to listen, to laugh, and to cry.
This unexpected time out has been a gift. As of this week, all of our children live elsewhere: their own apartments, their college dorms. I am so happy for them that I am okay. I’m learning to accept sadness. And I’m ready for a new journal.
Image from Alexas Fotos on UnSplash