Ordinary: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Everyday I get a report from my mother’s assisted living facility. Today I was informed that of the 118 residents, 19 have tested positive for Covid-19. More stringent rules have been put into place. The one on one visits with masks have been curtailed for some time. Visitors may no longer venture beyond the entry doors into the lobby. Residents not longer take their meals in the dining room but instead have breakfast, lunch and dinner delivered to their apartments where most, like my mother, eat their meals alone. I had hoped to gain entry to my mother’s apartment in order to decorate it for the holiday. Instead, I had to content myself with delivering a wreath for the door and a poinsettia for her table. At 93, my mother has an increasingly difficult time marking the passage of hours and days, much less holidays. I had hoped that decorating her apartment might help her to mark the season, but even that small gesture now seems impossible.
So, I do what I can.
I call her every evening and try to ascertain from her voice her physical and mental state. Some nights are better than others. I should add that like most mothers, mine is very adept at “faking good”. She’s often feeling, “just fine”. When asked about her day, she often tells me how busy she’s been, even as the nurses tell me about her isolation and lack of activity. In addition to the fear of Covid-19, the staff is battling depression, their own and that of the residents. Twice in the week I “visit” my mother. This usually consists of delivering a package to the door to be taken up to her room and then talking to my mother from the parking lot where she can see me from her second story window. While the delivered packages contain necessities, we also try to add bottles of wine, holiday napkins, magazines, etc. My mother is fully aware that things around her are not normal, but nonetheless she rises at 5:00 am, showers, gets dressed and puts on her makeup and jewelry only to face what must seem to be another day of fear and isolation.
She does the best that she can.
Like everyone else, I am experiencing Covid Fatigue. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, things are likely to get worse before they get better. I find myself, by turns, angry and depressed. A friend, who is an ER nurse, tells me of patients dying from Covid while still asserting that the virus is a hoax. The degree and amount of disinformation and denial which has been promulgated over the last several months borders on the criminal, as does our inept national response. That many churches were complicit in this program of disinformation and denial will, I believe, be remembered and that memory will redound to their shame. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and, it now seems likely, that they will be joined by tens of thousands more in the coming weeks. So, we are left with lockdowns of varied severity, mask wearing, social distancing, sanitizer and washing our hands.
All of us, it appears, must be content to do what we can.
If, like me, you are not a scientist, or an epidemiologist, or a supply chain guru, that which you can do appears to be very ordinary. Wearing a mask, while occasionally annoying, is not an extraordinary sacrifice; nor are social distancing or washing your hands. Yet, it also has occurred to me that the life that we desire to return to is one that is filled with ordinary. I want to see my mother again and give her a hug. I want to invite friends over for dinner. I want to meet people in person instead of on Zoom. There are so many ordinary moments that seem as though they have been taken from us… and we want them to return.
In this Advent season, perhaps we might do well to meditate on the season in a different way. Often we celebrate the extraordinary nature of the season. The parties, meals and gatherings are extraordinary. The decorations, the lights, the Christmas trees (whether in Rockefeller Plaza or in our own living rooms) are extraordinary and beautiful. Yet with so much of this constrained in this time of Covid, perhaps we should turn our gaze to the ordinary. While angels may sing above the shepherds, a very ordinary scene is set before us in Bethlehem. A man and a woman have made a journey to their hometown. The young woman is in the ninth month of her pregnancy. She gives birth in a stable as there is no room in the inn. The babe is wrapped in swaddling clothes and is placed in a manger. No one else is there. The shepherds have yet to arrive and the Magi are still distant as they follow the light of a star. Yet, it is in the very ordinary nature of this event that the extraordinary revelation of the Incarnation takes place.
So, while we wait during this Advent season, maybe it is enough for us to merely do what we can. Maybe this year we simply embrace the ordinary and realize how extraordinary it is…