One of the most restorative aspects of our week in the woods was that I took myself completely offline. This was entirely a matter of choice, not necessity. We camped at a major state park with decent cell service, or at least I assume it was decent based on the fact that other folks in our group were texting and streaming music all week, and my husband has probably half a dozen backup portable chargers, including one that is solar powered, so there wasn’t any real reason to conserve battery life. Even so, I turned my phone off the minute we pulled into the site (right after texting my mom “we’re here, we’re safe, love you, byeeeeee”) and left it off all week, only it turning it on once a day or so to snap pictures. I ignored texts. I didn’t check my email. I definitely didn’t look at the news.
On the email front, I didn’t miss much. A dumb Nextdoor post tagged “Crime and Safety” reporting two unmasked shoppers at a random Walgreens in the neighborhood. A bunch of emails about COVID protocols for my kid’s day camp and reminders to turn in outstanding paperwork. A survey from QuitMormon.com about LDS missionaries who got sick from drinking tainted water during their missions. Some political and social justice oriented calls to action. A notice that my dentist is open and I’m way overdue for a cleaning. Informational emails from all the places I’ve been ignoring because they no longer have any relevance to my life: the library, the gym, the running club, the book club, the church, the school. A week’s worth of morning briefings from the New York Times.
One of the first things I did when I came back to town was respond to two surveys sitting in my inbox about the possibility of returning to school and church in the fall. (I ignored the missionary health survey because I never served a mission.)
On the news front, I didn’t bother trying to catch up on what happened while we were away. I’m sure I missed a lot in the details, but the headlines were the same: it’s the end of the world as we know it.
Now that I’ve been back in the world long enough to remember that we’re still living in a deadly pandemic and to appreciate, perhaps for the first time, that it’s getting worse instead of better, I’m realizing that responding to the surveys when I was still high off the forest and family and friends might have been a huge mistake! I may have been a little, um, overly enthusiastic and, ah, unreasonably optimistic in my responses.
Consider the survey from the church, which was geared toward gauging interest in the following proposal for returning to in-person worship in the fall:
- A shortened 30 minute worship service for 50 people;
- Congregants would register beforehand, sanitize hands before and after worship, wear face masks, and maintain physical distance, including assigned seating;
- Family members would sit together and children would stay with their parents;
- No singing, communion, coffee, or fellowship hour; and
- No sunday School for children or adults.
I skimmed through the limitations and didn’t even pause before checking the box to indicate “YES, I would be interested in attending in-person worship as outlined above.” Was I interested? Of course, I was interested. I was more than interested, I was desperate to get back to church. I thought we would be gathering for outdoor services back in June and here we are in July still meeting virtually. I would have checked the box a thousand times.
Having established my definite interest in attending in-person worship, I moved on to the next, and last, question in the survey: For those interested, are you willing to provide assistance ushering or reading? Again, I didn’t hesitate. Ushering? I’ve never ushered before, but sure, no problem, yes please, let me see my people. Reading? Again, I’ve never read from the pulpit before, but only because the church has never asked me. This, truly, is an oversight on their part; I am an impressive orator. I’d rather speak than read someone else’s words (even, ahem, God’s), but at this point, I’m as desperate to be of service as I am to interact with other people. Please just let me be useful.
A week after hitting submit, a week spent confronting the reality that life is not going back to normal in the fall (a reality that I am fully aware that people who are capable of taking life more than 24 hours at a time have probably already accepted), I’m feeling decidedly less charitable. If I had to check a box now, it would be the one that says, Oh shit, what did I do and can I take it back? If I could write my own survey and send it back to the church, it would look like this.
Parishioner’s Return to In-Person Worship Questionnaire:
- Will ushers be permitted to maintain six feet of distance, hold their breath, and cross their fingers while welcoming people to church?
- Will the people being ushed understand that I do not want to be anywhere near them?
- Will readers be permitted to wear a mask at the pulpit?
- Is there a mask that covers my mouth and nose and also hides the terror in my eyes?
- If I volunteer, who will sit with my daughter–i.e., make sure she doesn’t wander out of our designated pew/holding pen and threaten the lives of the other brave and/or desperate churchgoers?
- Are we worried about spreading the virus via the biblical floods of tears I am almost certainly going to cry from trying to pretend that this facade is anything close to what I want it to be?
- Is church without singing, communion, fellowship, and coffee really church?
- Is it worth taking my daughter if she hates it?
- Do I have to go?
- Do I want to go?
- Does it even matter?
The survey from the school district was longer and more complicated and my responses were more nuanced. Suffice it to say that I indicated a strong preference for returning to in-person school five days a week for many reasons, including that my kid is the kind of kid who will likely struggle with a schedule that involves a mix of days in school and days out of school, and that I have serious concerns about the mental health implications of another year of entirely remote learning. Obviously, as a concerned citizen who tries to pull my head out of
my own ass the sand at least occasionally, I’m second guessing the wisdom of that option now. Even if the risks to children seem low, I get that we can’t gamble with their lives, plus I don’t want staff to die! I don’t even want them to get sick! I only thought I had COVID for a couple of days, and it was terrible!
If I could redo the survey and send it back to the district it would look like this:
P.S. I’m sorry everything I want is bad.
P.P.S. Just tell me what the hell to do.