To my mind, aside from the obvious medical implications, the biggest pandemic impact comes through the counter-intuitive, distanced step back from people. The learned habit, worked into our psyche over nearly a year, of keeping the majority of people at more than arm’s length, enough to make a hug impossible, intimate conversation difficult and the nitty-gritty, daily bits and bobs of sharing life challenging.
A friend and I were chatting recently about how the summer weather made life echo of remembered normalities as people caught up in parks, chatted in the sunshine and relaxed because of the safety that comes through not being an enclosed space. It seemed that we might even ride out the rest of these Covid times like that, especially with an unseasonably hot start to November here.
But numbers have risen, winter is chasing our flip-flopping Fall away and there’s a gradual withdrawal happening. Restrictions have yet to reach the level of a national lockdown, but they’re potentially hovering in the wings, waiting for the executive order. While I’m thankful for our freedoms in comparison to the UK, the vagueness of guidelines and variety of interpretations means we’re constantly trying to work out where our friends and church family stand in relation to what is going on. As no doubt in every nation, there have been varying degrees of caution, but it’s the frequency with which peoples’ degrees change that is challenging. It feels like shoulders are beginning to hunch, angst is rising and gradual withdrawal is happening as people watch the numbers and take additional precautions.
I’m not opposed to caution, and fully respect the different positions and consequent ways of life that are being lived out at this moment. But I hate the subsequent relational withdrawal. While I know it’s not a personal hit, it feels like a kick in the stomach when someone’s position changes and they no longer want to do life in-person. I’m thankful for zoom, FaceTime and every other technological tool that helps to oil those relational wheels but it does little to mitigate that initial punch as circles tighten and people wave from a distance.
I feel a knot of concern. Knotted over the impact on me, but also on others. I’m so thankful for the saving graces of a church small group still willing to meet outside even as temperatures drop, friends who include us in their social bubbles and our Sunday gatherings as a church family – even though dillydallying with others is discouraged. And I worry about those who are barely connected, those who are out of the habits of initiating social interaction – whether in person or through technology, and those who are maybe waiting for ‘normal’ to return before they re-engage.
It’s our last women’s bible study this evening, before the Thanksgiving/Christmas break, and we’re reaching that climactic point when Jesus opens the disciples’ blind eyes and Peter declares him to be God’s king, the Messiah. I’m reminded as I prepare the study that our spiritual sight and understanding is not dependent on cloudy circumstances but on the grace of Jesus. While I feel knotted and nervous about the coming months, I’m praising God that Jesus never takes a step back, his rescue is never restricted and, by His grace, my clear sight of God’s glorious king will not be obscured by anything.