This morning, I drove into the city where I live from my parents’ house an hour away. My family is officially engaged in what I have coined The Great Shuffle, where my son’s care is being shared by three homes, four grandparents, my husband and me while we navigate the mass quarantining accompanying COVID-19. “Drive slowly,” my seventy-seven-year-old asthmatic, heart-patient, corona-at-risk, and kind grandmother warned before I left the house, “They say it’s really foggy out there.”
She wasn’t mistaken. There’s little cell service in the woods of Northwest Louisiana through which I traveled to an office that is all but closed and which will spend 85% of its time today discussing the current pandemic. So, the hour-turned-two-hour drive through the thick mist provided me a long silence to do the sort of thinking that is more like praying.
As I contemplated the blurred edges of the trees and the disappearing road which looked as though a graphite artist had shaded it into naught, I couldn’t help but compare the grounded cloud around me to the world’s persisting and shared experience with the Coronavirus. How it has settled around us! How it has confused normality! How it has restricted functioning! How it has taught us, already. What do we know about the fog? I made a mental list . . .
Fog insists that we stay put or slow down. For our own well-being and that of all those with whom our paths may cross and merge, the arrival of fog (or in this case, infection) ushers in the necessity of a halted or considered pace. This road is shared, we’re made aware. “Self” and “neighbor” become almost interchangeable as we consider who could be affected by what. Love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus told his audience. The fog shows us that to love ourselves is to love our neighbor is to love ourselves. This is a gift to witness, especially for the Western independence often driving the American church.
Fog can remind us that we are a part of a larger creation—not dominant over but dependent upon. “Want to make God laugh?” the church elders used to jest, “Tell God your plans!” Though dusty and theologically questionable, this quip nods to the truth that we are not in control. But, whereas in my youth I may have heard that sentence and equated it to humans being pawns of a divine authoritarian instead of active agents in their own lives, I see an invitation in our present-day depletion of control: you are not over the whole picture because you are a part of the whole picture. We belong to each other and to a big story which includes nature, cycles, mystery, interdependence, and the chance to embrace the unknown. We belong.
Fog obscures and restricts. There is no denying this. And you don’t need me to put a romantic spin on every inconvenience and heartache that has now flooded our daily lives. Fog, like this pandemic, eclipses reality and complicates normal and needed functioning. There are wrecks and delays, and both can be devastating. You may get lost. If you’re privileged enough to have time to get lost, this may be a relief. If you are not, this could be detrimental. People will experience the restrictions differently based upon their resources and what dictates them. The best thing we can do for one another is to listen and trust people with the language of their own experiences, to offer when we have more, and ask when we have less.
Fog can teach us what it’s like for those whose navigation of the world is hindered on a normal basis. Imagine an existence where the clouds never lift. For some, that is the constant reality. Can’t get what we need for our pantries? The poor often know this experience well. Can’t venture out because of threat of contamination? The immunocompromised are quite familiar. Feeling stir-crazy and muddled due to isolation and lack of touch? Many elderly, single people, mentally ill, disabled, and homeless individuals can relate. Having to lean on other senses and other people to construct a livable reality? May the present days inform our privilege in the ones to come with compassion for those who are both acquainted with these struggles and further harmed at this time.
Fog has means and an end. As fog can be gorgeous, the forced isolation of COVID-19 may very well be leading to a mass-reduction in environmental pollutants. As fog can be damaging, COVID-19 has caused stress, costs lives, and overwhelmed economies. As fog can cause us to pay attention to what’s right in front of us by masking distractions, COVID-19 is proving to do the same in our homes and rhythms. As fog can thwart plans and halt important movement, COVID-19 is turning the world that we’d anticipated for 2020 on its head. As fog can require us to think outside of the box, for many COVID-19 is necessitating unprecedented creativity and connection. It can be both, and. It does not have to be this for that. There are means, and there will be ends, and one does not have to justify the other. We can hold them both.
Fog will clear, eventually. By the time that I rolled into the almost empty parking lot of my work this morning, the skies were bright and periwinkle, no residual clouds above or below to be found. As with all things, it had its moment (albeit a profound one). As with all significant things, what followed was shaped by it.
In the months and years ahead, may we find that we loved well and were loved well through this pandemic. May we be heartened to see what humanity was made of, after all. May we find peace in this being many things, accompanied by many emotions, and attributing to many outcomes. And may we be better, closer, more merciful, less afraid, encouraged, and connected when it lifts.
As it will lift.