by Becky De Oliveira—
My eldest son was on a university-sponsored geology trip to Death Valley during the second week of March, just as the crisis surrounding the current pandemic was really ramping up. Halfway through his trip, on Wednesday, March 10, his university declared that students should not return from spring break. He returned to a deserted campus for one night, long enough to collect his laptop, books, and a few extra clothes, and then he got a flight to Denver where I picked him up on Saturday morning, March 14. That was the last day our church met in person, and I missed it—although at that point, I probably would have elected to stay home anyway.
If you’re one to keep track of time, as I am, you’ll know it’s been about 20 weeks since all this started. Of course, my son never went back to campus; the remainder of the school year for him, like virtually everyone else, was conducted via Zoom. But his university has decided to resume on-campus education this fall and, after successfully passing his COVID-19 test earlier this week, he is officially cleared to return within a couple weeks. Life will be back to “normal” for our family to a greater extent than it has been for quite some time—although my husband and I are still working remotely and our younger son will be attending high school on a hybrid model—two days at school, two days home, with alternating Fridays. So not particularly normal at all, but minus one son whom we’ve gotten used to having around again.
My mother has had Parkinson’s disease for nearly 24 years, and watching my parents suffer the effects of that—not necessarily being able to do all the things in retirement that they had hoped to do—has long made me realize the wisdom of never assuming you have time. Never assume you’ll get another chance.
One of my favorite pieces of wisdom from the book of Ecclesiastes goes like this: “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind” (6:9, NLT). This is almost the opposite of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from the plight of my parents and the grounding resulting from the pandemic. When this is over. (Fill in the blank—we all can.) When this is over, I’ll see a movie, cut my hair, go swimming every chance I get, visit all my relatives, attend every birthday party and baby shower and wedding, go straight to the ocean, finally climb to Everest Base Camp. Sometimes all I do is dream about what I don’t have and what I might eventually have if everything works out in some way: flattening the curve; vaccine; herd immunity. But the writer of Ecclesiastes seems to be advising me differently: Forget about when this is over. What about now? What about your life now? Enjoy what you have, he writes.
The upsides of now (there are many, as it turns out): It turns out all four of us can live in this house without wanting to kill each other. It’s been downright pleasant, actually. The boys laugh and wrestle and have pull-up contests. They made stir-fry and pão de queijo and banana bread. My oldest and I take a walk every evening after dinner, and after about the first month—when we started to wonder if there was a pattern to the number of people we encountered on the path and whether it related to the day, time, temperature, wind speed, and weather—we began to collect data. We will conduct a multiple linear regression before he leaves. Exciting, I know. (Nearly as exciting as going to the grocery store! Or Costco!) But to be honest with you, if not for the pervasive sense of doom that hangs over everything right now, I’d be pretty happy.
I attended my brother’s 45th birthday party on Zoom back in May and someone said, “Weirdest year ever.” I’ve heard many others say, “Worst year ever.” How many jokes and memes are floating around about plagues? What next? Locusts?
I really hope this is the weirdest and worst year ever. For many people, this no doubt is the worst year. Those who have lost loved ones. Jobs. Dreams. If you’re not among them, you’re one of the lucky ones for right now, even if it doesn’t feel that way all the time. Wherever you are, I hope God gives you some joy in the small moments you have. I also hope you can find ways to share that with other people. We all need God right now, but He often manifests best in the caring actions of other people. There’s still time to lift this year into something faith-affirming and perhaps even transcendent.
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.
Worst Year Ever
by Becky De Oliveira—