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Take the time to imagine

First slide

The challenge of writing a column during Coronatide is that one is never quite sure what life will look like two weeks hence. Will we still be “quarantined”? At this writing, we have been safe at home for 50 days. That means that technically we are 10 days past a quarantine. I’m quite certain no one was counting on using the strict definition of the word. What I do know as I write this morning is, no matter what, we will not have returned to “normal” when this column is published.


There is no going back. Instead, today, we are in the in-between, caught after a life we once knew, when the word “viral” meant a lot of people clicked on a meme, and before a life we will one day live where the world is populated by people who have taken the time to imagine.


In March 2020, the normal and ordinary abruptly screeched to a halt. We withdrew to our homes. For some of us, the experience was noisier and more crowded and busier than ever. For some of us, it was day after day of uncomfortable, endless solitude and silence. We all lost the places where we escape, the noises of commerce that soothe our stress, the public havens of anonymous retreat. A microscopic virus had the power to call our way of life to an abrupt end in a matter of days. And “end” it did. Even as we inch our way toward the thresholds of our homes, looking out on a bright, nearly summer day, we know that “normal” will be entirely new. It has to be.


Pragmatically, we will have to grapple with how to stay safe and healthy as we open schools and places of business. The patterns of our daily rounds will most certainly be altered. But there is something else.


We are different people for having been at home. While we might long for the peace and quiet and the relative autonomy an office once afforded us, we don’t relish the idea of once again losing all those valuable hours to a commute. We have seen what life looks like when we spend more time face to face with our families. We have noticed all the things we were missing when we were away from one another.


And in the big world? We have a better understanding of the valuable role “essential workers” play, and we know that heroes aren’t only doctors and nurses — they are every person who walks in to work through the automatic doors of a hospital these days. They are the UPS driver, the restaurateur struggling to stay open, the grocery clerk whose eyes tear up above her mask as she tries to strike up the same regular banter you’ve had with her for nearly a decade. We step into the new normal with a brighter sense of appreciation for one another and for the ways our lives are connected.


The world stopped spinning. It paused. In the pause, we considered our mortality. We saw the numbers climb and we wondered, “what if?”  As we wondered, we took in our surroundings, near and familiar, and we looked to the people who have always been closest, but never been so clearly in focus. Many of us, deprived of the physical presence of Our Lord, struck up or deepened a relationship with him in the Word. We learned that we could drink deep from the chalice of his words of consolation and that upon every opening of our Bibles, he had new nourishment to offer. We longed for in-person community while rejoicing in the richness of a long, focused phone call with a kindred spirit.


And now, we imagine. We imagine emerging from this cocoon into the reality of a life forever changed. We have to get this right. We cannot afford to squander this opportunity in our rush to get back to making and spending money.


The air out there is crisper and cleaner and more sparkling than it’s been in a long, long while. Inhale deeply and imagine how to gather up the good of the last few weeks and bring it with you into the slow unfolding of tomorrow. Take the good of the last few weeks — the exquisite tutorial afforded you during the pause — and imagine who you want to be and how you want your world to look when this is all over.


Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Northern Virginia.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020