The summer heat lies heavy in our Minnesota neighborhood, and the basswoods and elms are dropping their bracts and seeds, respectively. Where sidewalks meet grass, they pile up like snow.
The church my sister-in-law leads, which we’ve been attending online and more recently outside, returned to indoor worship this week.
Sunday morning I woke up and told Jon I wasn’t ready.
“Ready for what?” is the question he did not ask me, thankfully, because I had no answer.
I tried out a few responses in my imagination anyway:
- Not ready for so many people in one room?
- Not ready to make yet another decision, whether to mask or not to mask?
- Not ready to meet new people?
- Not ready to get dressed up and Be On Time on a Sunday morning?
- Not ready for something that might feel like the Before Times but knowing (praying) we are entering the After Times?
These all seemed like reasonable things to not be ready for, after more than a year on Pandemic Time, but I wasn’t sure which, if any, were holding me back.
So I did what I usually do. I leashed up Leo, and we went for a walk through the neighborhood. It was already 80-some degrees by 8:30, so we headed toward the river, where I thought it might be cooler (it wasn’t), and walked the grassy dike.
The dike didn’t exist when I was growing up here. In fact, it runs right through what once was the home of a childhood friend. Some years back, her house, along with dozens of others—blocks of houses on the west side of a street—were removed due to their propensity for flooding, the unpredictability of rising spring waters and need for sandbags traded for the certainty of raised earth.
Leo and I dropped down the river side of the dike into one of those now-empty yards, lured by a blooming line of lilacs, their scent surrounding us, like falling into a pot of jasmine tea. But as I reached out to pluck a twig of them, I spotted something else nearby—an iris.
No wild iris, this one, bred to mimic the colors of a sunset sky. This domesticated beauty was obviously planted by someone, a reminder that people once lived here, once tended these flowers and shrubs, once packed up their furniture and clothes and pots and pans and left. Leo and I were not just walking along a dike. We were walking through what used to be living rooms and kitchens and bedrooms and gardens, where people laughed and ate and loved and cried.
I left the iris but brought back a sprig of lilacs for our table and, after pancakes and eggs, waved my people out the door to church, my son dashing back in to grab a favorite mask, just in case (that’s my boy!). I tuned into the service on my laptop.
I had expected to find it livestreamed and was disappointed to find the prerecorded service, what had become our “normal” way of going to church over the past many months. But watching it alone, holding myself in this Pandemic Time habit, I realized I had wanted to peek into the sanctuary, maybe even catch a glimpse of my guys in the congregation, to see what was happening there, how others were handling the beginning of After Times.
I began to feel left behind, the rest of my family moving ahead.
It wasn’t until the worship band began singing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul …,” that the tears came.
Our church in Washington had sung this song at countless services in the Before Times, before the pandemic, before we packed up our moving van and left for a new life in Minnesota.
We had sung it when I was a struggling stay-at-home mom, a stressed-out working mom, a granddaughter mourning my Grandma’s passing, a freshly minted yoga instructor, a newly published author … It was one of those songs that had spoken to me at each of those times.
And now here it was being sung in our new place as well, where we’ve been nine months already, passing through autumn leaves, winter snows, spring blooms and now summer swelter, in this place where all three of us are finding new identities, new callings, where I’m still realizing that this process requires leaving parts of our old selves, our Washington selves, behind.
I envisioned myself as a woman on a rope swing, arcing back and forth between one riverbank and another, the old and the new. I had grabbed hold of that rope last September, stepping off the life we had made in Washington, and ridden it toward a new life in Minnesota.
But doing so in Pandemic Times made it pretty easy to keep swinging between the two sides. Staying masked and socially distant, meeting with friends and writing groups and book clubs and worship communities and work colleagues across the country, even around the world, primarily online, meant I had never quite let go of the rope. I never needed to. Although I was no longer where-I-was, I also had not quite landed … here. Where-I-am.
To actually go to church, in Minnesota, would mean be-ing here in a new way, committing more to here. Would that simultaneously require letting my loved ones and Washington life slip a little bit further away?
Maybe letting go of the metaphorical rope swing and answering that question is what I wasn’t ready for Sunday morning.
My family holds some things in common with those people who once owned homes backing up to the river, who let go of their houses and their futures in that neighborhood, along with their irises, lilac bushes and apple trees that continue to bear flowers and fruit, continue to catch the eyes, noses and taste buds of passersby. I imagine back in Washington my irises have bloomed, and my purple coneflowers are getting ready to shower the new owners of our previous house with beauty. Maybe last summer’s tomatoes have volunteered in the vegetable garden.
Like the people who moved from these riverside houses in Minnesota, we have moved on to a new life too. Whether or not my heart has caught up, the fact is ours includes troughs of cherry tomato plants, zucchini, snapdragons and sunflowers.
I imagine wherever those riverside neighbors ended up, they planted new gardens too.
… The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again …“10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman
Posts on resuming a Minnesota life after 19 years in Washington