The family of four walked down the street, not in a hurry. Like so many families these days, maybe they were making a daily habit of getting out, getting in some steps and getting some fresh air together.
"DEER!!" my son whisper-shouted from the front window. "TWO OF THEM! No, FOUR OF THEM!!"
I joined him (moving much more quickly than one should have to on a Saturday morning) and my jaw dropped. We may not live downtown, but we are not exactly in the country here. Not even the suburbs. Seeing any brand of wildlife larger than a squirrel, up this close and personal, was kind of astounding. And something about them being pedestrians on a residential street-- out among the weekend yard workers and holiday errand-runners-- seemed especially magical.
"Go get your sister, quick," I said, "And see if Dad's up."
He ran back, his sister at his heels--both of them already talking excitedly about getting a picture.
"Go get your phone!" "No, it's not charged, go get yours!" "Where's mom's phone, is it closer?" And back and forth like this for a bit. All while the little family outside spied a morning runner at the end of the street. And paused. And started to slowly back away.
"No," I told the kids. "Don't run for the camera, you'll miss it. They'll be gone by the time you get back."
I was incredibly proud of my wisdom in that moment because, these days, it is not something that comes to me naturally. Like most folks, I feel like I'm a hot mess and in survival mode most of the time. We are surviving a pandemic, functioning in quarantine, and living through "unprecedented times," as every institution and vendor you know is so fond of saying. With anxiety all around us, and uncertainty up ahead, it is not often these days I have such a profound parenting moment- but at that window, when nature came calling for a brief moment, everything in me said "Stay. Be still." And I listened.
We miss a lot of life running for the camera, or looking at the phone. Or thinking about the next thing (whether worried about it or looking forward to it). Or chasing things that somebody else tells us we should have. We miss so much. I may be a lousy NTI teacher (what, I give them computers and internet--what more do they need from me??) but I was not going to miss this particular teaching moment.
Stay. Be still. Breathe it in.
In these stay-at-home days, for all the stress and heaviness, there is still often joy. Of course there is. But it's not every day that wonder happens along. In these days that feel like the same day, spinning itself out over and over again, we've maybe even forgotten what extraordinary feels like. We scarcely remember that something startlingly beautiful, maybe even miraculous, can pass by our door without warning. Be ready when it does. Because it is most certainly just passing by for a moment.
Be still. Stay.
I never knew the apocalypse would be so... well-decorated.
If you're like me, you've spent many of this quarantine days oscillating between, "oh, this lovely dinner on the patio with friends feels almost like normal!" and "democracy is dead/civilization is crumbling around us/everything is on fire/we're all gonna die." I'm here in my work-from-home situation, which is not entirely different from what it was before, other than the no-travel thing, and The Children being generally around--everywhere, every minute, all the time-- having school on computers in their rooms instead of at actual school. Some days, it's nice out and they play with friends. We have people over to sit on the deck. We go for hikes. We make dinner. Things feel like... well, if not normal, then at least 'usual.'
Then there are the days when we reckon with how very unsustainable this all is, not just for us but for the larger, corporate "Us:" the uncertainty; the political boiling points; the precarious economy; and the endless global realities that continue to deteriorate, even in the midst of a pandemic that feels like it should be enough chaos, all on its own, without climate change, natural disasters, and countless escalating conflicts around the world.
So which is it- is life normal, fine, and totally okay? Or is everything burning?
I think, for most of us, the answer is: yes. On both counts. Two things can be true at once- in fact, an infinite number of things can be true at once. We can be functioning, even borderline thriving; while also feeling profoundly fragile and knowing things could collapse at any moment. People can be utterly selfish, callous and cruel; and people can also be selfless, kind, and utterly extraordinary. We can know pain so deep we can scarcely come up for air; and we can know such transcendent healing and hope that we can scarcely keep from lifting off the ground with the joy of it all.
Whichever of these truths is true for today--or if you are doing that impossible dance between the two-- know that just naming the paradox of it all is, itself, an act of hope.
This much is also true: whatever comes after this, however we might want to call it 'normal,' will never be. We might get to a place of relative safety and comfort- but it will not be the life that has been, life as we know it. We're living through a reckoning. With ourselves, our family connections, our institutions; we have sifted through, claimed what is good and true and life-giving. We have also born witness to the cracks in the foundation. We have seen where things fall apart. We have seen the absolute best and worst of our friends and neighbors.
We have made note of the fights we need to pick later.
We have let go of things that used to seem like fights, but in the midst of this great falling away, seem less like conflict and more like clarity.
This reckoning that we're living through is an apocalypse, in the truest sense of the word. Our cinematic fixations might leave us feeling like zombies must, by necessity, be involved in anything deemed apocalyptic. Or we are waiting for the complete decimation of the landscape. Or, at the very least, a Stephen-King scale pandemic that wipes out wide swaths of the population... well. Maybe on that count, we got a little closer to the movie version. But in any case. We are living through the end of what we've known - and that is apocalyptic in the truest sense of the world.
You'll hear a lot of religious extremists these days talking about the end times- God coasting down with an entourage of horsemen and a lot of fire and fury (sometimes the biblical is cinematic in its own way); but that's not what this particular ending is about. We are just witnessing a falling away. And that, really, is what the season of Advent has always been about. It's just that most years, we bury it in presents, activities, and happy jingle-jangle that we start singing right around Halloween.
This year- maybe it's down to just the falling away.
Or at least-- the falling away, and the lights. I went for a walk tonight as it was getting dark, and took in the sights of my neighborhood Christmas decor - strings of tiny bulbs hung as small signs of joy, small testaments of hope, small acts of resistance against the encroaching darkness of winter and... whatever the hell else it is that hangs over our heads these days.
And I thought... I never knew the apocalypse would be so well-decorated. That these small acts of tradition could bear witness to a lingering, resilient joy that abides in all things. On the one hand, is it utterly ridiculous that we're all out here, decorating for the apocalypse? Or are these small acts of joy a glimpse of a coming new day, in a very biblical sense, when all will be made new?