‘Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can,
Seldom in a woman…, never in a man!!’
While some of us may not appreciate the accuracy of this statement, I suspect that it is all to true- certainly of me. Sitting in crawling rush hour traffic in Bray (can it really have been only three months ago), I was growing more and more frustrated. Not only was it literally taking hours to get out of Bray, there was also the insistence of other drivers ahead of me, of waving cars out from the side roads to join the traffic jam ahead of them – and most annoyingly – ahead of me! My daughter is well used to my murderous mutterings as we edge our way out of the bottleneck that used to be Bray Main Street at 7.30 each morning – and she would subtly push up the volume on her phone as the latest Tom Rosenthall hit surged out on the car radio system. I tend to save my least-Christian attitude and behaviour for traffic jams and this Tuesday morning (btw, why is the traffic always worse on a Tuesday – is there an unwritten rule that every car in the country needs to stretch its carburettor on a Tuesday morning?) was no exception; I beeped, I gestured, I even swore (don’t tell the Bishop!). And then suddenly it hit me. This wasn’t a hindrance, it was an opportunity. I had been bemoaning for ages how said daughter and I never got time together; and here we were with literally all the time in the world. I would love to report that we had one of those Hollywood father-daughter moments, where all our past tensions were sorted and a deeper new level of understanding was reached. We weren’t in the traffic that long! But we did connect, and it changed a time of frustrating impatience into a time of chat and laughter.
I mention all of this because I am learning that even this time of unsettling fear and constant change allows us a time (I don’t like to use the word ‘opportunity’ as so many have died and suffered) to think and live differently. While the traffic levels are rising, we are a long way off previous rush-hour congestion. For some of us these past three months have been frantic as we try to adapt and change to very new life and work experiences. There can be a growing sense of dread that the coming weeks will see even greater change and busyness as we try to navigate through tricky, and even dangerous, unchartered waters. Days off and even the vague dream of recuperating holidays are squeezed more and more by the sheer scale of what needs to be done in a rapidly reducing time of returning to the ‘new normal’. I now find myself getting impatient with the impatience of others! What’s the rush? Can we not just take a few extra weeks and get this process right? I even, sometimes, find myself wishing that the lockdown could somehow be extended; even just for a few weeks, just to give my brain and my body more time to catch up. Part of it is the change from frustratingly slow days of March and April, when every day seemed to be a week, to the alarming passing of days and weeks of May and June in a blur of activity and fast-forward. Time, theoretically, proceeds at the same pace day in and day out. But as we have adapted and settled into the lockdown, we have struggled at a very deep level to cope and process all that has been happening. (It sometimes feels like Christmas 2019 was twenty years ago!). Now we are having to gear up and embrace even more change with not a huge amount of clarity as to what the ‘new normal’ will be and how (and when) we will actually get there.
We may struggle to comprehend how queuing for a morning shop in a retail outlet can feel like Christmas, but just as the cars coming from side roads and slowing me down in rush-hour traffic also needed to move and get their occupants to work/school etc, so too, those who had a very different lockdown experience to mine, need to vent their frustration and impatience as they clamour to escape, what was for them a nightmare three months. One of those interviewed (a young man) on his return to retail therapy pointed out that he had stayed in his flat for three months with no physical contact with another human being except for online or seeing the retreating figure of the guy who delivered his online-ordered groceries. It reminded me that my lockdown was very different. A large house, spacious gardens and a one-minute commute to the parish office!
When we feel tempted to impatience at the impatience of others, stop for a moment, and try to imagine what it would be like walking in their shoes. This will be especially true as we begin to gather for In-Church worship – or physically present worship. Some of us are going to feel we are not ready – and that’s ok. Some of us are going to be almost queuing at the porch gate early in July, to get back to the building and the community. Some of us are going to prefer to continue online and drop in occasionally to catch up with the rest of the church family. All of this is ok, we have always been a church that meets people where they are at; However we do need to be mindful that the return to our church building is going to be slower than some would like, and too much for others. Our challenge as a parish family is how do we retain and even grow our sense and understanding of what it means to be a community.
It’s going to take prayer, planning, creativity and above all, patience! Watch this space!