I arrived early, something not typical for me, but I was feeling anxious and did not want to be late. There were signs and volunteers directing the steady stream of cars to available parking, and the steady stream of pedestrians to the clinic. As I walked by the first volunteer and tried to say thank you, I suddenly realized I wasn’t going to get through this without crying.
First it was just watery eyes and a tight throat as I walked into the building. Then it was tears falling as I stood in line and when the person at the desk asked if I had an appointment. I could barely get out the word “Thanks” when another volunteer directed me to an open vaccination station. And when the man holding the needle cheerfully asked me my name, I answered with a full blown sob. Then I choked out, “Catherine.”
All of this is to say that clearly I have been having way more feelings about stuff than I am aware of.
The truth is I haven’t cried much during this pandemic, even though I have experienced deep grief. But there I was, in a room full of strangers, more people than I’ve been around in almost a year, and I couldn’t stop my tears.
After I received my shot I went into another area to wait out the 15 minute window to be sure I didn’t have any immediate allergic reaction. Then I headed back to my car. I was through most of my tears and I noticed another response. Suddenly I wanted to go to a restaurant, sit down, and have something to eat. I used to eat out all the time, grabbing a bite as I rushed through my busy day. But since last March I haven’t been in a restaurant. Now all of a sudden my old brain kicked in, as if the last year of home-cooked meals hadn’t happened, saying, “Let’s go back to the old way.”
It didn’t stop there. As I got in my car and drove away from the clinic, I passed a theater. “I wonder what’s playing there?” I thought. “Maybe I’ll catch a movie.”
Good heavens! Clearly my thinking had reverted to a pre-pandemic mindset. Almost.
As soon as those thoughts popped up, my other brain said, “Stop that. First of all, you just got the shot a few minutes ago. And your second shot is four weeks out. And the world is still in pandemic mode. Just stop that.”
And more than “Stop that,” I also thought, “Wow. How fast was that? I do not want to go back to my old way of being.”
All is of this is to say I clearly have more work to do.
Throughout this year I have had the opportunity to become more aware of life’s fragility and its preciousness. I have left behind the hectic pace at which I used to live. For all the changes of the last year that I grieve, I also have experienced simpler and more reflective way of being. I have even baked my own bread, for heaven’s sake. And I have promised myself that I would hold on to these lessons. I was surprised at how quickly the old way of being said, “Welcome back.”
Isn’t that the way of out hearts? There is so much more going on in there than we are aware of. That spiritual task of knowing ourselves- our griefs, our patterns, our self-deceptions, and even our strengths- is much bigger than we might think it is.
When I finally got home from that first vaccine adventure I was exhausted. I ascribed my exhaustion to the vaccine, but I suspect it was also a side-effect of a year of grief and change, and a year of holding so much of that grief and change below my awareness, just so I can get through the moment.
I know that there are many who have been unable to schedule their first vaccine, and many more still waiting for eligibility. I know that the broken healthcare system this pandemic has unmasked is just one part of the broken systems this year has also made clear. I also know this year has invited us to new ways of seeing and of being that are worth holding on to.
We are not the same people that we were a year ago, thank God. And may God continue to lead us forward into whatever good thing is emerging in our world.
God be with me in my tears and in my turning. Even after I get that second shot.