I’m on my first flight since time started being measured in terms of COVID-19. It’s an afternoon American Eagle direct flight from a small town, Traverse City, Michigan, to DFW.
The plane is full. Got a late departure due to the late arrival of the cleaning team to sanitize the plane between flights. They were apparently playing “catch-up” all day.
Everyone on the plane is masked, of course. Families are bunched in seats near one another and a mom is reminding her kids to keep their masks on in spite of the protestations.
She looks tired. I imagine this scene has been their life, off and on (in magnification), for so many families in the past five months.
Mostly, I think all of us on this plane are all a little anxious and impatient — 130-plus potentially asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers crammed into a 9×80-foot steel tube for three hours. I’m packing goggles, a mask, and packets of wipes filled with 80-proof ethyl-alcohol anti-COVID defense!
TSA confiscated my spray bottle of Foggy Mountain sanitizer. It crossed my mind to tell them I was a minister and intended to spray folks (“Baptize them with the spirits!”) as I walked down the aisle — and then announce, “This plane is cleansed!” — but I ended up just telling them I’d forgotten that I’d packed it in the carry-on. They let me keep the wipes.
Unsurprisingly, the passengers are not talking to one another. And there’s no food or beverage service. So, some of the passengers are trying to catch some Zs while most of us are just staring straight ahead, or at least away from one another awkwardly. It reminded me of traumatized dogs having to wear “cones of shame!”
I’m practicing my “As If” discipline of imaging everyone smiling behind their masks when we do happen to glance one another’s way. Before the flight, negotiating my way through a small restaurant, I imagined that hidden smile like one of those reactive “always-maintain-six-feet-between-you” silent alarms that went off when two of us nearly crossed into the potential infection zones.
I wondered, “How long has it been since I actually, physically, bumped into someone on accident?” I’m reminded of those “invisible electric barrier” signs in people’s front yards as more and more people took to the sidewalks for quarantine breaks. The sign was to assure us that the German shepherd sitting on the porch can’t go beyond that sign. I’m still not really all that assured.
How many times in an average day do I wonder if a momentary encounter with someone will come back to haunt me within the next two weeks?
So, this has been our new normal for the past five months, and it will likely be with us into the next year. (Pandemics have a way of sticking around.)
And in the midst of this anxious reality, we worry about our kids starting back to school, the security of our jobs, if one of our job interviews will call back with a job, or if we’ll ever be back together (physically) in worship or with larger groups at church. Will we ever go to movies or concerts or football games again?
We’re anxious about the COVID numbers, the health safety information, and the misinformation we get almost every day. We’re frustrated with having to wear masks almost everywhere we go. We’re anxious about the injustices and pain we continue to see with corporate greed and racial bigotry and political manipulation and division.
It’s hard to be patient with any of this, much less all of it!
I spoke with an out-of-state clergy friend of mine a few days ago, and as we talked about the reality we’re in, he said something jokingly about all this that caught my attention. He remarked, “Well, patience isn’t what it used to be.”
I think maybe he’s right.
We often think of patience as “putting up” with something. Holding back our frustrations or anger about something. Sticking with a cause or path or person, in spite of the difficulties and challenges.
“Love is patient. Love is kind,” we are told in I Corinthians 13. Patience is one of those qualities Paul exhorts the early church to exercise in living a life of faith during difficult times. Seems pretty clear.
Except I’d like to suggest that there may be a much more engaging, productive, and spiritually healthy way to practice patience that most of us overlook when thinking about the word.
This Sunday, Rev. Linda McDermott will join me in looking at patience as a virtue we might practice in a new way that will bring hope and interest to this politically charged, socially distanced, pandemic time. We’ll talk about patience as so much more than just passively “waiting it out.”
Brad Thompson and the band will inspire us with music from Five For Fighting and Michael Kiwanuka.
See you then!
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven