This Unfamiliar (Again) Road

Last spring, I tried to contact every household at Live Oak to see how everyone was doing. It took longer than I anticipated, for a wonderful reason – many of these emails prompted a back-and-forth of really getting into our experiences of the pandemic and the freeze/power failure. We got real with each other, and moved past the superficial “Oh, we’re fine …”

The thing is, we weren’t fine. Even the folks who tried to say they were fine were doing so within the larger perspective. There were so many members who they knew were worse off, it didn’t feel right to complain, they said.

But the pandemic was taking its toll on everyone.

I anticipate that in the future there will be books and journal articles in the mental health field for all that we’ve learned about the importance of community during this time. I think we gave lip service to it before, but this year all of us have been part of a giant experiment in doing without.  Even if your house was full, we were physically separated from our peers, colleagues, friends.

In early July, back when things were feeling fairly safe, I went to my “sacred spot” of Barton Springs. I was startled at how overwhelmed I felt by one simple thing: no one there was wearing masks, and we were back to the instinctive way of smiling at complete strangers as we passed them, or caught each other’s eye. The feeling was so powerful, I nearly began crying.

For we allistic folks (non-autistic), we’ve missed eye contact. That’s the irony of Zoom – we can look at the camera, or we can look at the screen. But we can’t actually make eye contact with one another.

It has taken its toll. There are articles galore about the rise in depression, but I imagine most of us have seen it in our own homes, in our own selves. I know that this has changed me as a minister. “Community” literally is lifesaving, and without it, we suffer. I am so grateful for the technological advances that have allowed us to stay connected online. And, I know that doesn’t work for everyone.

Last year’s Homecoming service was titled “As We Roll Down This Unfamiliar Road,” a line from a Phillip Phillips song. At that time, we had no vaccines, and it was still believed that the virus was spread through droplets, rather than what we know now, that’s it’s spread through aerosols. We knew that we would be exclusively online for the foreseeable future. We were facing an “Unfamiliar Road.”

And here we are again. We know more, both about covid, and about the toll this has taken on the mental health of so many, especially those living alone. So, we’re embarking on yet another unfamiliar road, that of multi-platform church, where we try to give everyone a little bit of what they need. Once again, we are in Beta – experimenting to find what works, adjusting what doesn’t, and trying to build the plane as we fly it.