What’s Missing?

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Back in July, I published a list of the five things I missed most during the pandemic. It was a way of putting down on paper/screen some of the “normal” things that had been interrupted in what is becoming this lost year. They were mostly superficial, little things that I wouldn’t normally notice throughout the day or week, but that by July were obviously missing from my life.

Online, I saw parents in chaos as they tried to juggle their work from home, their lack of day care, and homeschooling their kids with and without wifi and other resources. I couldn’t relate to that experience either. My two youngest children are teenagers in high school. We are fortunate, in more ways than one, that they no longer share a room. They went to their respective corners, closed the door, and went to class (if there was online class) and did their homework. We’d see them each once a day as they emerged from their cocoon of isolation for lunch. I kind of missed them.

We cooked more, and our kids cooked more. We did takeout now and again, but it wasn’t special anymore. It felt like more work. Masks on, rush in, rush out, masks off. Eat, clean, repeat.

Television was postponed when filming was postponed. We signed up for a bunch of streaming services and watched things we’d missed on the first go-round. Hamilton came to Disney+ early. Wonder Woman 1984 came to HBOMax. Supernatural returned (finally) and then finished its series run seven episodes later.

Glancing back at my original list, I was able to get most of it back in the summer and fall when covid numbers fell. Our Chinese take out place re-opened. My town’s new Starbucks was the only Starbucks in the area that had indoor seating. I was thrilled. Target was my getaway – we were always looking for toilet paper and soap. I mean with four people home twenty-four hours a day, we were always in need of one or the other. We stayed in our state, one of the safest and were able to actually go on vacation before school started again. I returned to in person mass on Mondays, although therapy remained by phone. My retreat house went hybrid and I was able to enjoy a few retreat days and two weekends before they closed again due to an increase in covid numbers.

Recently, I realized what I was really missing. The lingering.

It wasn’t church that I missed, although I definitely missed the sacraments and the liturgy and the homily, but it was the standing around talking to people I only saw once or twice a week. Our Cursillo group stopped meeting when the parish center closed. All our community events were cancelled. No parish picnic, no in person day of service, no hospitality at Sunday mass, no Lenten fish fry, no Holy Thursday lasagna dinner.

I couldn’t go to the library to work on things in different surroundings.

When my writing group met in the park after weeks of not meeting, we sat far apart. It was hard to hear. It was cold. We didn’t linger. And then winter came.

Even when I was able to go to Starbucks, before they closed the indoor seating, I’d go for a limited amount of time: eat breakfast, write for an hour (which does seem like a lot, but I was used to going for two or three at a time), and then either head directly home or get groceries and then go home.

I stopped taking myself out to writing lunches, which in my pre-pandemic days I didn’t realize how much I relished and needed.

I had one telemedicine visit, which was convenient and helpful, but I did that in my dining room. I wanted to get in the car and go somewhere else after the appointment. I didn’t.

My retreat house moved to Zoom, which was great in many aspects, but in others, the camaraderie was missing; no compliments on my scarf or my earrings. No handshakes or hugs. No breaking bread and no chapel prayer.

The word lingering came to me the other day, and it summed it up so succinctly that as I thought more about it, and what it meant, it just clicked and created a small space of melancholy and understanding.

I began to linger in the mornings in bed. Not the same thing, not a great idea either, although with my Kindle, I listened to my daily morning podcast, I took my medicine, I paid the bills, and read and replied to emails, I scheduled appointments. It became an office space, and that led to sleepless nights. My actual office became overrun with papers and pocketbooks and receipts, and was unusable. I commandeered a space in the dining room and now I work in there, although my time is spent organizing and decorating. Not helpful for a writer.

And I don’t linger there.

I work. I move to another chair to read. I move back to work some more; to write. And then I move again.
Rinse. Repeat.

I want to linger. I want a weekend to write and rejuvenate. To reenergize and reemerge a better person; a better writer perhaps. I don’t mind being home so much, but I mind not having the choice; not having anywhere to linger anymore. I dislike going out only with a purpose and losing that freedom of myself, alone with my thoughts or my own brand of quiet.

When will I be able to linger again without rushing off to the next thing?

Time to Reflect

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Ash Wednesday has arrived. It feels so early this year, but I suppose everything feels a bit jumbled during this pandemic year. As my priest said at mass this morning, things are different, but they’re also the same. Less people allowed at mass. Ashes distributed with a cotton swab (my parish) or sprinkled over your head (others). I didn’t make this morning’s mass in person although I planned to, and registered to attend. The ice on my car made different plans. I was able to watch the mass livestreamed and stopped by the church later in the afternoon to pick up a small vial of ashes. It was a do it yourself for me today.

I would have thought a year into the pandemic that I’d be an expert on reflections on any subject that came to mind, but when I went to write this on Tuesday, there was nothing. Sometimes reflections feel like journal entries, and I’ve been not great at journaling this past year. I’ve tried to keep checklists – masses attended, rosaries said, writing accomplished, but even that little bit has been a failing.

I hadn’t even decided what I’d be giving up, and then I gave myself an extension. Not anything canonical, but I think sometimes when we force ourselves to do things without the impetus of why we’re doing them, they lose something in the translation.

I spend a lot of time worrying about what I’m going to give up as if forty days without chocolate or soda is a hardship in the big picture of things, but on the other hand, I think that sacrifice should also be a sacrifice of time. What can I do to grow in my relationship with G-d? What are things that I can do for these forty days that will stay with me for the next forty? And then the next?

To begin for the readers waiting with bated breath, I’m not going to make my decision on what I”ll be offering to G-d for Lent until the first Sunday of Lent although I have a good idea what it will be and it wasn’t even on my original brainstorm list. By Sunday, I will have had some time to discern what I can accomplish from giving something up or trading it for something that is more positive and/or spiritual.

Lent is a forty day period where prayer, fasting, and almsgiving take the center of spiritual life. Despite being given dispensation from holy days and Sunday masses during the pandemic, I have still gone almost every week to the livestream mass. I was happily surprised to find it just as rewarding as going in person. In the summer, I began to attend Monday’s daily mass in person and I will continue to do that. Our church has done a great job of keeping things safe. I am very lucky with both my church and my children’s school.

In addition to the three pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving since I’ve become a Cursillista, I try to incorporate the tripod of piety, study, and action into my everyday life, but moreso during Lent when our time is spent in communion with Jesus, and of course, ourselves.

I have some tools and links that I’d like to share with you to assist with your own Lenten journey. The first three I will be doing throughout Lent.

Daily Reflections for Lent: Not By Bread Alone 2021 by Mary DeTurris Poust

A Stranger and You Welcomed Me from Clear Faith Publishing

Along the Way: A Jesuit Prayer Pod – a weekly Lenten podcast from two Jesuit brothers

The Examen with Father James Martin, SJ – daily podcast with Fr. Jim Martin, SJ

Prayer of Spiritual Communion (this is what my parish uses for communion during their livestream masses for those of us participating at home):

I wish, my Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility, and devotion with which your most holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints. Amen

In addition to some of these, I am also going to praying the Rosary on Mondays and the Stations of the Cross on Fridays as well as committing to submit a reflection to my Cursillo group’s weekly digest. I will also (finally) begin reading A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan. This was recommended a couple of years ago and I bought it then, but haven’t found the right time to start it. I’ve decided to make that time now.

I also intend to recommit to my writing, both spiritual and secular. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve kept consistent with this website, but my other writings have fallen on the wayside. I hope to rectify that over the next forty days.

I hope to bring you more in the coming days. Have a meaningful Lent.

Black History Month – Henry Johnson

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Mural on a building of WWI hero Henry Johnson and other WWI service members, on Henry Johnson Blvd. in Albany, NY.
(c)2021

Henry Johnson was born in Virginia, but lived in Albany, the capital of New York, since his teens. He worked as a redcap (porter) at the Albany Union Station. He was also a sergeant in an all African American unit (the 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly the 15th Infantry Regiment of the National Guard during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with star and the Gold Palm from the French govenment for his heroism in fighting off a 20 person raiding party of Germans.

He was the first American to receive these awards, and yet there was no recognition from his own country.

Finally in 1996, he was awarded the long overdue Purple Heart and in 2003, the Distinguished Service Cross. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Honor, accepted by Command Sergeant Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard.

He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

In Albany’s Washington Park stands a monument to Henry Johnson, just over half a mile from the street that bears his name.

Henry Johnson Monument, Washington Park, Albany, NY, erected in 1991.
(c)2021
Detailed photo of the bust of Henry Johnson.
(c)2021

WMHT presents Henry Johnson: A Tale of Courage

Author Max Brooks on Henry Johnson, the Unlikely War Hero