Voluntary and involuntary social distancing

Dear President Trump,

I’m hanging out upstairs semi out of earshot of Laura as she conducts her review session via Zoom with her class ahead of their online final tomorrow. I don’t know how many of her 83 students have joined, but when I was still downstairs I heard quite a few of them exclaiming over how good it was to see her and thanking her for keeping them all connected. She has had these students for two quarters and so not getting to meet with them in person this last week was quite a let down. She’s also been holding virtual office hours and every time students sign on, the first few minutes of their time is spent talking about what is most pressing for them, what is scaring or confusing them – they need her to hear what’s on their hearts before they can focus on the statistics.

This morning (and last Sunday) we had choir practice via Zoom (it is coming in very handy!). As luck would not have it, we are working on a song in Spanish and most of us do not speak Spanish so it’s extra nutty hard trying to learn it virtually. Some of the stronger singers (I am not among them) seem to be doing ok and are picking it up pretty well, but I’m not holding my breath that we’re going to be able to pull something together to share (virtually) in service in a couple of weeks.

But you know what, it really doesn’t matter whether we end up with a solid product, or actually any product at all; it’s far more important that we are sticking with our routines and staying connected. Here too, the first several minutes are given over to check-ins. We got to hear from how those whose work places are shutdown are sorting out how they are going to make ends meet. We also got to hear how others’ work is picking up because their services are suddenly more in demand than usual. They were all invaluable little peeks in to what is going on for people and I’m so grateful to be a part of this.

I know you won’t do it, but if you ever want to hear a wonderful sermon on social isolation and social connection, our pastor’s sermon this morning was incredible (here’s the link: https://plymouthchurchseattle.org/upload/file_20200315132313/20200315_sweet_relief.mp3). She preached on today’s lectionary, which was John 4:5-42 about the Samaritan woman at the well who Jesus engages in a way that makes clear he sees, respects, and values her. Our pastor used the text to point out that many, many people in our midst experience isolation and social distancing involuntarily as a matter of course, completely independent of the covid-19 situation. She was warm and validating about the struggles those of us who don’t generally experience such things involuntarily are now facing as we try to adapt to our current situations. She went much further though, and pushed hard on the idea that we are really the fortunate ones and that perhaps we can use what we are learning about how very challenging it is to be apart from most of our people to hone our empathy and build our motivation to bring people who are on the margins into the communal fold.

I know I’m being extra churchy today, but before I sign off, I want to share that I discovered that the Compline Choir at our local St. Marks Cathedral is sharing their Sunday night services via podcasts. This afternoon I listened to last week’s service and for the first time ever (that I know of) they wove prayers for a particular person who is ill, presumably with covid-19, into one of the songs. They also made oblique references to what is happening in our community in their spoken prayers. Here’s that link in case you need some soothing: https://complinepodcast.org/?p=1797.

May we all stay safe and connected.
May we be willing to empathize with those who know social distancing all too well.
May we learn lessons from this that we can use to strengthen our bonds.
May we make peace with the things we can’t change and have the courage to change the things we can.

Tracy Simpson

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