Thanksgiving will be different this year. As I write this, in early November, the United States is experiencing a new and frightening spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, along with a rising number of deaths due to the virus. My husband and I will not be traveling to sit at table with family. As we have done for months, we will love our loved ones from a distance.
These months of shutdown and relative isolation have prepared me for the cherishing and the awe named by Christopher de Vinck when he writes, “Cherish what is simple. Be in awe of what is great.” (The Center Will Hold) My busy city life has become simplified: no riding public transportation several days a week; shopping is limited to groceries and some online purchases; we have dared to eat out just a few times at one or two places that maintained strict rules for preventing virus spread—no more running to a favorite place because one of us doesn’t feel like cooking. No more concerts or lively walks downtown—which is like a ghost town these days.
Our life is contained in our home, with the two of us, two dogs, and two cats. Our “going out” this summer meant long evenings on the back porch, which unexpectedly morphed into a retreat space. Although I’ve always enjoyed my moments of sitting in our small backyard, these past months have helped me hone that ability to cherish what is simple and right in front of me.
You may not have a porch or a yard. You may live alone, which makes such shutdown times even harder. But there exist in your life some simple pleasures, and you can celebrate them as this non-traditional Thanksgiving approaches. Perhaps you have photos and other memorabilia to help you celebrate past joys and past/present relationships. It’s likely that you have learned how to meet others through digital media—and you’ve discovered that it’s quite a nice way to spend time with people who cannot be in the room with you. Maybe you’ve learned to cook—or to cook with more joy and creativity than before. Some of us have finally had time to read the books we didn’t have time for before. Or we decided to get busy with a new hobby. Or we started a new ministry in the midst of the needs all around us.
Gratitude and Awe
Earlier this week, I drove my husband to the entrance of a hospital so he could be tested for COVID, in preparation for a procedure he’s having soon. We pulled into the semi-circular drive and were greeted by hospital personnel, all dressed up in their PPE. They were calm, friendly, gave clear directions, and handled the work quickly and efficiently. They acted as if they had spent their careers reaching through open car windows to swab people’s nasal passages—all of it outside exam rooms, with everyone wearing masks. These healthcare workers simply carried on and reassured us as they did so. I was in the driver’s seat, weeping. Weeping with gratitude and awe at what the healthcare workers in this country have done for months, day after day, serving the rest of us, taking care of us, carrying the brunt of this horrible pandemic.
What’s happening in the world on so many fronts is too big to grasp, to make sense of, or to understand in any satisfying way. God does not ask us to understand what is huge and frightening and outside our control. God simply asks that we hold in awe the divine love that continues to hold the world together. This divine love meets us in our private prayer, as the Holy Spirit speaks with us and comforts us. This divine love meets us in hospital driveways in the form of healthcare professionals doing their jobs. This divine love shows up in the various organizations around the world that have shown incredible innovation to provide food for people out of work and out of chances. It shows up in neighborhood programs that have sprung up spontaneously to meet the challenges of this time—neighbors checking on one another to be sure they are well and have the food and other things they need. Divine love shows up in the musicians, artists, actors, writers, designers—and so many others who have offered their work to us virtually, just to help us all keep going.
May we stand in awe of how the heart of this universe continues to beat and how we keep learning how to love one another and dwell with grace in our lives.
Cherish what is simple. Be in awe of what is great. That’s a pretty good plan.