As I sit in my office during this first week of August, I have the window open and am enjoying the light breeze and 64 degrees as the day begins. It’s going to be a sunny day, and I can hear both the birds and the crickets singing their morning songs. My cup of coffee is nearly finished, but it’s that just right amount that helps me wake up, and yet doesn’t irritate my stomach, nor has it singed from sitting too long on the burner.
It looks to becoming a very nice day. I have a list of some things I could do, but nothing urgent in the possible vacuuming of the carpet, or making the cole slaw for lunch. In my retired status, there are no pending important calls, no irritating emails – no “to do” list that will never be accomplished. It’s simply a nice place in which to be alive.
So, why is there a sense of sadness in the air? I know – it could just be my imagination, but I am by and large not a “sad” person. I enjoy life, and enjoy both the big and little things that make up the unusual and interesting living that we all do. Yet, something is there. Maybe it comes as I drop Cheri off for work and watch her put on a facemask that she will wear until she leaves this evening, as she works in the medical profession. Maybe it’s that I too have a mask in my car, and in those very few places where I need to go and secure something, like the grocery store, the mask goes on. I only see about ½ of anyone’s face.
Maybe it comes as I watch a large number of people running or walking or biking or walking their dogs, presumably just to get out of the house for a bit – but they aren’t smiling. They aren’t happy. It’s as if there is a grimness that has set upon most of my neighbor’s lives. Cheri and I were talking, and remarking on how simple things we used to do like stopping at the mall, or the antique store, or even having breakfast on her day off at one of our favorite restaurants have all become chores of sorts – increasingly difficult and involved, and most of the time, we have avoided it because it’s just a lot of work to do what used to be so simple. Not physical work, but emotional and mental heightened awareness that out there somewhere is a disease, and the most important goal is not to get sick, and so the best way to do that is to go to a few places as possible.
We had planned, when I was retired, to take a big trip – maybe to England and Scotland (Cheri wants to go to Iceland), and experience the beauty and history of those places. Our 40th wedding anniversary in next June, and I’m not sure the idea of flying internationally, or anywhere, is going to be comfortable or even possible. In my job as superintendent, I would spend 40-45 nights per year in hotels. Since March 10, I’ve not been in a hotel. Five months with a total change. Part of that, of course, is retirement, but a larger part comes in not going anywhere.
Now the battle rages about kids physically going back to school, or whether they will remain at home as they did for the last three months of last year’s session. It seems odd to me, and I’ve not found a good explanation for why you would have students come to school 1-2 days per week, and then teach them from a distance at home the other three days. The coronavirus isn’t more or less contagious depending on the days you are together! If you catch it on a shortened week, it doesn’t make it less virulent. Will there be fall football? I can tell you that here in Fargo, where the North Dakota State Bison play – national champions for the last 8 out of 9 years – if there is no Bison football, for many all will be lost!
Back in March when we were all invited/requested to quarantine and hunker down, this way of living was as novel as the virus was. As inconvenient as it was, it seemed to have a purpose. Now, however, as things are “opening up,” and people continue to get sick and hospitalized, the novelty has worn off, but things are not over! Our youngest son was told to work from home in March – now they are telling him he will probably not go back to his office until after next January. So, he sits day after day with limited human interaction.
Sorry to make this a sad recitation of where we are right now, but it’s where we are right now. Some folks have decided that by the sheer might of their own will, that the virus no longer exists and that everything is fine. I fear most for them, but I also fear for me, when that careless approach throws the doors wide open for further infection.
It’s true that we can do anything for a little while. However, when faced with having to adapt our lives to what some call a “new normal,” which means what used to be a normal way of living is gone, and probably won’t return, we are challenged to live in such a murky, uncertain, not-normal way of behaving. I wouldn’t call it depression. I would call it sadness.
How do we fix this? How do we make things at least feel more normal than they are? I think it requires two, maybe three important intentional decisions on each of our parts. First, we need to choose to think that these strange uncomfortable actions we need to take daily will not become all that we think about. So, we have to wear a mask – who cares? Just do it, and not let it overwhelm you. Secondly, we need to do some “old normal” things that maybe we have set aside for a while. Whatever brought you joy before, see if you can adapt it to where you are now. Thirdly – turn off the television, especially the news. The outlets exist, not to share information, but to make money off of sponsors who will air reports and stories that appear compelling and interesting, but which truly just feed our national anxiety.
Ok – there are four things. The last thing, which maybe should be the first thing, is to establish, or re-establish the ability to pray. And by praying, I don’t mean begging. In prayer, we open ourselves up to the transforming, peace-making, empowering Spirit of our God. Sit quietly, and ask God who you are to be, and how you may best live in this radically changing world. In prayer, we align ourselves to God’s will, and being aligned, it helps us to better not be at odds with the world. It’s still God’s world – this is just a difficult season.
Maybe there is a fifth thing we all can do. Let’s cut each other some slack. Let’s not pour our own anxiety on others. Let’s allow each other room to grieve the passing of the old normal, and encourage one another to take a deep breath, and know it’s ok, at least for now. That’s a good gift to give this world today.
Word of the day: nefelibata. Pronounced ne-FELL-i-bata, the word literally means “cloud walker,” from the Greek nephele, “cloud,” and batha “place where you can walk.” A nefelibata is someone who lives like their head is in the clouds. They rely on their own imagination and dreams to get by in the world. They drive sensible, realistic people crazy, because they aren’t tied at all to practical things. A nefelibata isn’t necessarily in inventor, but certainly comes up with crazy, out of the blue ideas. They are daydreamers – constantly. If you remember the Beatles song, “Fool on the Hill,” then you have a description of a nefelibata. They are also known as “airheads,” especially by folks who would never stick their heads in clouds for any reason. If you plan your life to be nefelibata, make sure you plan to pretty much be on your own.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.