As a front line healthcare worker, I spend my days navigating the overwhelming isolation and fear of patients in the midst of this brutal pandemic. The onset of COVID-19 was bad enough the first time around. Now with hospitals full again and re-instituting no visitation policies, patients are faced anew with fighting their diseases alone, the warmth and touch of their loved ones reduced to a one-dimensional blur on hospital issued iPads.
We haven’t even had time to recover from the spring.
The resurgence of isolation-related blame and anger, frustration and sheer exhaustion overshadow COVID-19 itself, and no wonder. God realized as soon as He created us that we needed companionship, and He knows we need it now. He knows we need to love and to be loved, and that so much of that occurs in the presence of others. We are withering emotionally and spiritually as insidious fear and emotional emptiness slowly but steadily drain joy from our hearts—again.
…buds on trees and people walking their dogs and riding their bikes and setting groceries on the stoops of shut ins and dads playing with their kids on front lawns on sunny spring days and seamstresses sewing masks and the camaraderie of nurses and doctors and RTs and PTs and OTs and techs and social workers, best of friends bracing for all we trained and live for.
It was the worst of times…
…numbers tripling, front lines failing, ventilator rationing, health care workers dying, jobs disappearing, shelves emptying, spirits falling, and ice rinks converting to morgues.
It was the age of wisdom…
…people listening to experts, families staying at home and washing hands and honoring others and nodding at each other from across the street in the name of humaneness and humanity as scientists hunch over lab tables and doctors trial hope and administrators shuffle beds and recycle masks and try to do no harm to their very own.
It was the age of foolishness…
…sacrificing loved ones in the name of beaches and bikinis and sex and selfishness and helplessness and saying efforts are exaggerated and overblown and it’s all a farce and all partisan and parties like 1999 with utter disregard for life.
It was the epoch of belief…
…that a Sovereign is bigger than a disease, that a Savior is in the midst of our feverish terror, that waters recede and oceans part and stones eventually roll away.
It was the epoch of incredulity…
…that our invincible selves and invincible lives and invincible stocks and bank accounts and high falutin’ stuff means absolutely nothing after all in the face of an invisible monster.
It was the season of Light…
…candles still burning on birthday cakes, stars all the brighter in still, cool nights, porch lights beacons testifying to resilience surviving behind closed doors.
It was the season of Darkness…
…masks unable to hide the wide-eyed dread health care workers feel facing patient after patient gasping for air, lungs filling with fluid, kidneys failing, hearts clinging to life, praying for miracles, all the while praying they aren’t the next ones to get the virus and end up being the ones who are turned and cleaned and suctioned and assessed and treated in vain.
It was the spring of hope…
…daffodils blooming and hyacinths cheering on the arrival of green and growing life, nature blissful in ignorance and all the while eager in its pursuit of tomorrow.
It was the winter of despair…
…nurses wearing trash bags and patients draped and dying and families watching from screens, only watching, via (face)time as their mothers and brothers and fathers and daughters lives slip away, alone, behind impermeable (im)personal protective equipment, no one to touch them, no one to hold them, no one to tell them it’s okay to go, the rest of us will carry on. Alone. But for the nurses. Who help them leave.
We had everything before us…
…weddings and tournaments, graduations and bar mitzvahs, play dates and class projects and concerts, baptisms and golden anniversaries and last trips to the beach, and new jobs and new homes and all the reasons to live as though the world would never end.
We had nothing before us…
…no end in sight, no cures, no answers, no end to the rising numbers of patients, no slowing of fibrillating Wall Street and rising unemployment, no toilet paper, no rice, no bread, no break.
We were all going direct to Heaven…
…at least we hoped so, the ones who lay in ICUs with unwanted tubes breathing for them, and unwanted machines replacing their kidneys, and nurses and doctors and aides and hospital workers not quitting because we don’t quit and won’t quit and we never, ever quit.
We were all going direct the other way…
…the ones who blame and shame and hoard and elbow through restrictions because they deserve to and don’t care and don’t try to understand this is not a hoax even though it feels like a great big huge one, and even though we want more than anything, in the middle of the night, to wake up and be able to laugh at what a ridiculous nightmare, what a strange and ludicrous joke the brain is playing on us because this can’t possibly be real.
*Lines in bold from the first paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
A shameful, out-of-wedlock pregnancy. A fiance’ who stays with her out of pity. A long, painful, obligatory journey to Bethlehem in her ninth month of pregnancy, and for what? To be counted in a census.
And the inn–there were no private rooms at the inn. We’ve seen the movies with the sweet cows and donkeys and drummer boy and sheep. But if you’ve spent any amount of time on a farm, then you know mangers are only useful in a barn that also contains bugs and straw and snotty-nosed (albeit adorable) calves, and the essential fragrance of feces.
Those aspects of Mary’s story, although over-romanticized, are at least familiar.
What might not be as recognizable, what you may not have imagined, is the Mary that lies within us, or at least, the Mary within those of us who are willing.
Maybe you can relate to Mary.
Maybe you feel like you have nothing going for you.
Maybe you feel like everything–and everyone–are stacked against you…
…all of them bewildered by you and your calling.
Maybe you can feel something turning, like the press of a tiny hand or the quickening of a tiny foot against the stretched tight womb of your heart, something knit deep and strong in your most intimate places.
Now more than ever you may feel that the Noël of your purpose is at the trailhead of a dusty and barren, hoof-pitted path. Misunderstood, you face a starless night, destined for a jarring, unwelcoming, and foreign place that has no room for you, and no rest for your contracting purpose. Lies that scream you’re unworthy lick at your heels like rattlesnakes in wheel ruts.
You kick them aside and forge ahead. Doubt hangs heavy like a cloak around your shoulders, shame threatens and taunts you to turn back.
Still you go,an unexplained call pulling you like a fetter.
The manger is a mess.
The birth is painful and public.
The Promise arrives wet with fluid and tears.
The questions, rather than answered, are just beginning.
Man stretched tight on a wooden cross.
The reason is not always, if ever, realized.
Light always comes, when a servant is willing.
Light always comes, against all odds.
We are, each of us, called to carry Jesus into the dark, into the scary, into the places and to the people that misunderstand, that cannot see, that will not see, that hate and that have no room.
When you light a candle at your Christmas Eve service, consider the Mary place God is calling you to go. Consider the Bethlehem ahead of you. Consider the Luke 1:37-38 promise that with God nothing [is or ever] shall be impossible.