“Comfort, comfort, ye my people,” says our God. Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
When Sarah Jarosz sang “open my window, birds still sing” from her new song on NPR’s Morning Edition last week, I felt like a mother eagle had flown into my COVID-19 heart and carried me on her wings. “Up In The Clouds” is a poignant, joyful, reminder of hope in the COVID-19 era. (Hear Grammy-nominated Jarosz’s “Up In the Clouds” and her interview with David Greene here.) As we stare into the next surge of Coronavirus, let us notice our resilience and celebrate the birds that still sing.
Month after month, we kept going. We cleaned pantries and garages when the pandemic began, baked bread, put Teddy Bears in windows, planted gardens, and drew with chalk on sidewalks.
In the beginning, we stitched thousands of masks at our kitchen tables and gave them away for free. We thanked essential workers for risking their health on our behalf. We eagerly awaited summer so we could be outside the confines of our home.
We closed our businesses. Cared for our sick. Buried our dead. Learned how to worship, meet, and chat on Zoom. We have been resilient.
And yet, the Coronavirus is not finished with us yet. More isolation and sorrow await us this winter.
Like the Psalmist, we plead for a word of hope, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”
“Open your window,” says the Eternal One. “Birds still sing.”
All is not lost. There is still love. And goodness. And God who, like a mother eagle, catches us when we fall.
Squirrels still bury nuts in my garden, and my chickens still lay eggs. Eyes smile above face masks. Snow sparkles today on mountain peaks. Vaccines will come in the new year.
Birds still sing. Beauty is still being created, music sung, and laughter heard. Wrongs are still being righted, broken relationships mended, people comforted, hungry folk fed. A world is still being born.
This pandemic will mark us for the rest of our life. Some of us will bounce back quickly. Others will take a long time to fly again. Some will be gone.
Those who make it through will say when facing a new challenge, “If I made it through the Great Pandemic, I can handle this ____.” We will celebrate how strong we are and how resilient we have become.
Every morning it’s the same. Coffee and memories fill my cup. And I’ve been thinking that I should learn how to do something new with my time – dig my hands in the dirt, build something that works, get all my loose ends tied. Open my window, birds still sing. I want to learn all of their songs, sometime this century till the water washes us away.
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, I put a table with colored chalk and hand sanitizer near my front sidewalk with a sign reading, “Please draw a picture or message of hope. Please use sanitizer before and after. Stay safe. Stay well.”
Almost instantly, people began drawing and writing. When rain washed away the chalk, they drew new pictures. Week by week the pattern continues: hope drawn, hope gone, hope drawn. The resilience of hope visible on my sidewalk.
When I first set out the chalk, I had no idea what would happen. Would we become the crazy people with chalk in front of their house? Would anyone draw? Would it matter? Like priming the pump at a fundraiser, I drew a smiley face to get things started, then took my dogs for a walk.
By the time I returned, there were pictures on the sidewalk. Within days, there were rainbows, flowers, stars, a car and a unicorn. There have been trucks, cats, dogs, houses, families, and smiley faces–even one wearing a mask. Today there are fireworks, pets, mountains, and flowers on my sidewalk.
I was moved by what people drew that first week. I was awed. I still am.
Some people draw, others write messages: Believe hope will come. We will get through this. Love, Peace, Hope. Be Kind. Wash your hands. Thanks for letting us draw. Together.
My sidewalk makes people smile in an otherwise grim time.
People have been leaving messages and drawing pictures ever since. Some people pause to look at the drawings and smile as they continue walking. Parents have said my sidewalk is their child’s favorite part of their daily walk. Teens have shown me which pictures they drew and messages they wrote. Adults have thanked me for giving them a place to share. The sidewalk project has helped build a sense of community that counters our isolation. When I need a lift, I walk out to my sidewalk and feel hopeful that we will make it through.
As the weeks pass and the world around us changes, so, too, have the messages changed. They began with “Stay safe; Wash your hands; Love, Joy, Hope; Hope will come.” After the killing of George Floyd, they’ve included “Black Lives Matter,” and “This Sidewalk Is a Blessing.” June arrived and “Happy Pride Month” appeared. This weekend, someone wrote “Just Mask Up or Stay Home” in beautiful colors. Always, there are messages of “Be kind; It will be OK; We’ll get through this.”
Today the sidewalk art includes green mountains beneath a blue sky and yellow sun, “Black Lives Matter, Just Mask Up or Stay Home,” a house, fireworks, a dog saying “Woof,” and flowers. When my own green shoots of hope wilt in the face of the day’s news, I stand at my sidewalk and feel hopeful.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” says Mother Teresa. I can’t do great things to change the world, but I can do small things with love. One of those small things is to set out chalk and sanitizer and create a canvas for people to share dreams, resilience, and hope with others.
Even when it’s washed away, hope is resilient. Breathe it in: We will make it through.
Despite the coronavirus, blue skies, cherry blossoms, and bright daffodils have come to Seattle and I want to be outside with them. I’m tired of my house and of seeing no one but my husband. I love him, but seven weeks of Safe at Home is boring.
Recently, I was so thrilled to have a steering wheel in my hands and an accelerator under my foot as I drove to the pharmacy that I wanted to drive for hours. But, no. I went straight home afterward.
At the same time, I feel comfort and solidarity in knowing that we’re all suffering through this isolation together.
Except that we’re not. Some states carry on as if the coronavirus is no more dangerous than car accidents and seasonal flu. Even in areas with stay-at-home orders, millions of people disregard them. Come on, folks. Millions of people around the world are staying home and sacrificing their income and businesses to save your life. Please return the favor by staying home and saving their life, too. Stay home to make the sacrifices of people who’ve lost their jobs worthwhile.
Stay home to save the lives of people doing work on which all of us depend: first responders and medical workers, custodians and delivery people, cashiers and shelf stockers, drive-up window employees and cooks, warehouse employees and garbage collectors, transit workers, food bank volunteers, and telephone help lines. If you reduce the spread of the coronavirus in your area by staying home, you make their world safer.
We can do this. We can come together as one community–locally, nationally, globally. The coronavirus gives us an opportunity to remember that social solidarity is part of being human. As David Brooks wrote recently in the New York Times,
Social solidarity is an active commitment, not merely a feeling of connection but an “active virtue.” Solidarity recognizes both the inherent worth and dignity of each person and the way we are “embedded in webs of mutual obligation — to one another and to all creation. It celebrates the individual and the whole together.”
. . . It is out of solidarity, and not normal utilitarian logic, that George Marshall in “Saving Private Ryan” endangered a dozen lives to save just one. It’s solidarity that causes a Marine to risk his life dragging the body of his dead comrade from battle to be returned home. It’s out of solidarity that health care workers stay on their feet amid terror and fatigue. Some things you do not for yourself or another but for the common whole.
Screw This Virus!, David Brooks, New York Times, March 19, 2020 see here l
Solidarity is why we stay home even if we feel healthy or invincible or have cabin fever, for we know we might unwittingly pass the virus to others. It’s why we stay six feet apart, hoping that by so doing, we’ll lessen the burden on first responders and medical staff. Solidarity is why we don’t hoard food and supplies but leave plenty for others.
Holy Week seems an appropriate time to write about love and sacrifice, life and death, despair and hope–the themes of life in the coronavirus pandemic. I began this post on Maundy Thursday, the day on the Christian calendar when we believe Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Laying down our life for others is what we do when we stay “safe at home.” When our jobs and business are sacrificed for the “greater good.” When we risk our life in essential jobs, both seen and unseen. When we set aside our work to care for and teach our children at home. When we stay away from church, synagogue, mosque, and temple and postpone weddings and funerals to a safer time. Jesus, who laid down his life for humanity, calls on us now to sacrifice in ways we could not have imagined before coronavirus crashed over us.
On Holy Saturday I returned to writing. This is the day between Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is a day of darkness and despair when Christians keep vigil until Sunday’s dawn. In this space we contemplate our complicity in Jesus’ continuing crucifixion, praying for God’s forgiveness and for a glimmer of hope. Between the crucifixion and resurrection, we, like Jesus’ first disciples, cry out for answers into an echoing silence. We long to know that Life is greater than Death and Good more powerful than Evil. We long for suffering to be redeemed.
That’s what we hope for, too, as we see refrigerator trucks outside hospitals and cars lined up for miles at food banks and unemployment offices. We cry out for answers as nurses and doctors plead for masks and medicine. We long for hope as the death toll climbs and we grieve both those who have died and those yet to succumb. We keep active vigil until Easter dawn.
And now, it is Easter. Christ is risen! Life has overcome death. Good has won and will win the day, somehow, some way, even if we only see glimmers of it now: A violinist serenading an emergency room; a loved one recovering from the virus; a child drawing a rainbow on a sidewalk; a whisper thanks for family and friends, for daffodils, and birds singing. God is not silent but speaking through officials who order social distance and quarantines and nurses who tell the dying they are not alone. God’s love touches us virtually in people who reach out by phone and internet. Love, not death, has the final word.
On this Easter day tombs of despair roll open and hope returns in smiled greetings from six feet away, music played from separate balconies, clapping hands at 7:00 P.M., and DIY masks that tell us someone cares. A new day will dawn fully, eventually. We trust that promise–that suffering will be redeemed–because we have already seen glimmers of light among us.
Yes, Safe at Home is boring and hard. Sacrifice and sorrow are real. Yes, we are in this together, all of us, for we are all God’s children. And yes, if you look carefully you can see glimmers of dawn among us, the light that will fully dawn, some day. Christ is risen.