On Saturday, I watched a video posted by a friend who lives on the Mississippi Coast. Her priest and some parishioners were giving instructions about how to proceed once the doors of their church are opened next week. One entrance. Stay six feet apart. Use hand sanitizer. Wear a mask. Older parishioners, please go to the Saturday mass. Every other pew roped off. For Communion, no wine, only bread. Stand. Unmask. Consume. Put mask on again.
It’s a thoughtful approach from a church trying desperately to feed the flock while also loving their neighbor and not causing harm. I cried watching it. I cried because I was happy that they have a plan. And I cried because I’m sad that physical closeness can’t be part of that plan.
Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I loaded up a little Subaru sedan and drove out of Austin, Texas, to a job in Fort Collins, Colorado. We left a land of lavish hugs and laid-back gatherings for a place where people valued privacy, where they planned their dinner parties three weeks in advance.
I gave birth to our second child when we lived there. When a friend from church brought a meal to our house, she tiptoed into the kitchen, laid the dinner down on the counter, then tiptoed out, waving to me and baby in the rocking chair. This Texas girl wanted to yell, “Don’t cha wanna stay ‘n’ visit? Don’t cha wanna give me a hug? Don’t cha wanna hold the baby? Come baaaaaack!” But I knew she wasn’t from Austin. I whispered thank you and waved as she gently closed the storm door so it wouldn’t go bang.
I didn’t get a lot of hugs from friends in Colorado. But I got enveloped by something else. Beauty. Beauty was everywhere. Snow-capped mountains. Bright yellow aspen leaves on bright white trunks, shaking in the wind. Spruce trees so blue they made me happy and sad at once. Snow. Snow falling. Snow on the ground. Snow and the crunching sound it makes when you walk in it.
There’s plenty of beauty in Texas, too. But in a culture of chitchat and hugs, I often forget to look up. I’m paying attention now, though, in these days of social distancing. I stared at the blackberries in my yard this morning. They are turning from green to pink. Soon they will be red and black, and we’ll pick them just before they’re ripe. A couple of weeks ago, I saw dozens of cedar waxwings in a bald cypress tree in our front yard. I heard that they’ve been passing through all these 18 years we’ve lived here, but I had never seen them until this quarantine.
When the doors of my church are open again, and I’m sad because I can’t get close to the people, I’m hoping beauty will come to my rescue, just as it did in Colorado, just as it did this morning in my yard. I hope I’ll notice the light coming in through the windows, the light coming down on the pews, the shoes on the feet of folks from all over the world.
At my church there is a fountain that flows over a rock that was taken from the Sea of Galilee. I’m guessing the water will be turned off when we have services again. I’m guessing we will be asked not to touch the rock. Maybe instead, I’ll stop and stare and remember where it came from. Maybe I’ll ponder anew the one who walked on the water, the one who called to Peter and said “Come.” Maybe in addition to grieving over the loss of what was, I can give hearty thanks for what is.
April Pickle lives under a green roof with her husband, four children, and two dogs. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and teaches journalism and literature at a university-model high school. One cold day, when April was in the fourth grade, she closed the car door on her winter coat and, unbeknownst to her or her father, prevented the door from latching all the way. Half a mile down the road, her daddy turned a corner, the door flew open, and she fell out. Thanks to the thickness of the coat, she was unharmed.