In a flash miles and years collapse, time jerks us away from the moment and whirls us back to another time and another place. A note from a childhood friend letting me know his ninety-eight year old mother was in hospice snatched me up and launched me home. Wanda was my unofficial surrogate mom who nurtured, affirmed, and cared for me through turbulent years in my own family. Suddenly I could see her smiling eyes and loving grin, and hear her unique laugh all over again.
Later that day, riding as fast as I could through a warmish rain along the lake in the state park, something about the robin I caught in my peripheral vision as it flew next to me sent me home again. In my mind’s eye I was twelve years old riding a black three-speed through the streets of Muncie, Indiana and the campus of Ball State University. I have no idea why a robin triggered that visceral memory but I was there in those days when Wanda was alive and younger than I am now.
Then, in close succession, I was invited to the online premier of a new play written by another old friend. This was also someone who, a bit later in my life, offered a critically important hand to help pull me from a mire of my own making. Now, I was seeing him for the first time in more than four decades, though we have kept in touch with fragments of meaningful communication through long and hilly years. Again, time and space caved in. I did not have to imagine T J’s voice or face because there it was in front of me, virtually.
Perhaps it is being locked within the pandemic’s unseen boundaries like an invisible dog fence, but an economy and culture that aggressively facilitates the separation of family and friends for employment and professional advancement, suddenly seems painfully absurd. Many of you who read this have not allowed those bonds to stretch far away across the clock and map. There must be disadvantages to living close and not traveling far, but right now it looks like much greener pasture from this side of the hill.
My friend, Tim, Wanda’s son, surprised us at my mom’s funeral. He made the trip home to be present with us. Due to current restrictions, I cannot return the blessing and that feels like a metaphor – a distance that once seemed easily traversed now seems terminal. So I have begun to wonder how we can draw the strings of connection into a closer circle of community?
This is not a new thought, but the emotions have intensified. The fact is, until there is a vaccine or cure for this virus, even localized families and communities will feel the distance. Churches, for example, will not soon be gathered in person and we will continue to test the power of technology to keep us bonded. The joy and gratitude I feel for my experiences with Wanda, Tim, and T J are not diminished by distance, nor what I cherish about my faith community. It is the opportunity for new relationships, and new experiences in this time of social distance that feels endangered.