By Reverend Rebecca Bryan
It took me five months, almost to the day, to realize that this pandemic is actually happening. For months before that I would pinch myself periodically and say, “What?! This can’t be happening.”
Even as I rearranged my entire life, welcomed two of our adult children home, and moved a church online. Even as I did all those things, some part of me–this part of me (points to body and heart)–couldn’t totally assimilate what was happening.
That’s grief. It takes our hearts and spirits time to adjust. It doesn’t happen in a week, a month, or sometimes even a lifetime. This is true with any loss or change in life circumstances. It takes time to stabilize, heal, and re-form.
“When things fall apart and we can’t get the pieces back together, when we lose something dear to us… and we don’t know what to do…” writes Pema Chödrön, “this is the time when the natural warmth of tenderness, the warmth of empathy and kindness, are just waiting to be uncovered, just waiting to be embraced.”
Indeed, this has been, and continues to be, a time for kindness and tenderness to be uncovered and embraced. The world-wide response to COVID-19 has been described by some as the greatest act of solidarity ever witnessed. Certainly, it was true early on, when we saw images of Times Square in New York City empty. Or people around the globe singing from their apartment balconies. We saw kindness when we closed our church building to protect one another, and there are so many other examples.
Chödrön goes on to say, “This is our chance to come out of our self-protecting bubble and to realize that we are never alone…wherever we go, everyone we meet is essentially just like us. Our own suffering, if we turn toward it, can open us to a loving relationship with the world.”
Last week I posted this question on social media: “What is getting you through the pandemic?” Now, my question referred to the pandemic, but we know there is much more we are all living with and grappling to understand. Politics, to name one, and the uprising of people demanding an end to systemic racism, to name another.
Black Lives Matter. Yes, they do.
The responses to my question, “What is getting you through these times?”, warmed my heart. There were common threads, or themes, including: nature, family, books, being with friends over Zoom and with social distancing, pets, puzzles, cooking, and more. All these things have one thing in common: connection. Humans are wired for connection. We long for and thrive in relationship.
As I was appreciating the responses, and mulling them over, an acronym emerged.
That’s what’s getting us through these times.
“C” is the thing everyone mentioned, which is connection, in all kinds of ways.
Then there is spirituality–however you experience that–in nature, music, prayer, or meditation.
Then, health–things like walks, talks, good food, rest, and moving at a slower pace.
Followed by acceptance–of what we can and cannot control, of the realities of life, no matter how difficult, of the fact that we are inextricably connected, and that what we do – matters.
Remember, of course, routine–people shared that they had regular Zoom calls, enrolled in online classes, and watched the birds while drinking coffee.
Connection, spirituality, health, acceptance, and routine
And lastly people and perspective – “PP”
Every answer referenced people. Some wrote of old friends, and new, others of you shared about talking on the phone, or looking at old photographs, regaling in memoires.
And perspective. Reminding ourselves that humanity has been here before, and history tells similar stories. We may be advancing in many fields, but we are still human, and humanity is not a mathematical algorithm.
Connection, spirituality, health, acceptance, routine, people, and perspective. Oh, and service! But that was one too many letters to remember.
Service… let us never underestimate the power of our actions, as small as they may seem. We don’t know, especially now, how much they can help, or hurt, others.
I’ll close with a story. My daughter, who about a month ago moved to California, and I took two walks every day during this pandemic. We only missed one day between March 9th and August 10th. I enjoyed these walks immensely; they connected us. We talked and laughed, reminisced, pondered, and dreamed. Our walks kept us physically fit and got us out of the house. But I’ll be honest, I was struggling with them. Two walks – was I being indulgent? I mean, was it okay to take two hours away from my responsibilities every day?
One day while we were walking, I shared with my daughter my dilemma about the acceptability of two daily walks. She listened in her loving way, and after a bit, she interrupted me saying, “Mom… I wonder if you know that our walks…they’ve saved me during this time. I couldn’t have done it without them, and without you.”
In that instant, I knew our two walks were not a mistake.
I know each one of you, whether you know it or not, have done the same for someone else. This might have been because of one smile, under a mask, one kind gesture, a note you sent on a whim, or a meal you made with love.
We all get tired, overwhelmed, and afraid. It’s inevitable. Yet even then we can pause, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves, as Laura Foley wrote in her poem “Dawn” that was read this morning: What luck or fate, instinct or grace brought me here? …seeing with my whole being, love made visible.” Life, and every breath, is a gift.
May you find ways to enjoy those gifts every day.
We’re going to close now with a few moments of silence. You may want to look around you at those gathered here in our sacred, special bunch. You may prefer to close your eyes.
But whatever you do, breathe. Feel the air, listen to Greg’s music, and say thank you for this life.
Amen and blessed be.
 The Essential Pema Chödrön Study Guide, Compiled and edited by Lelia Calder.