I enter our community kitchen cautiously when it’s time to take food home for my family. My eyes scan for an unoccupied space. My heart rate goes up a bit; it’s as if I’m moving around in one of those huge bubbles. Our eyes talk as we stream into the buffet line, with everyone’s faces seeming new. We’re all plopped into this “things we only read about” world. We return to our homes, disinfect and wash before enjoying our hearty, home-cooked food. COVID-19 has reset our lives.
Before the pandemic, people in my Hutterite community in southern Manitoba gathered for meals in the dining hall, ate in community, and met for the evening service almost daily. Now our community hall, school and church are vacant, we eat takeout meals and church services are done over the P.A. system. Communal tasks like making perogies and kitchen cleanup are done by small, rotating groups. Before, a typical Monday for me would include a to-do list of tasks to be accomplished: a workout, laundry, school duties, perhaps a trip to Brandon for errands. But with the chaff stripped away like husks on corn, our core values of life are exposed. How carefree life was before COVID-19! Who knew that being in the scary, unknown world of pandemic shutdown would result in feeling freer because of the slower, anchoring pace?
Not since we were small kids waiting for Christmas Eve gifts have we felt so grounded in our home. Before this, we simply had a drive-thru version of family — it was so simple to pass through the house without deliberate effort to make time for one another. Now we have the full course, with grace as well as awkward moments of stress. Some days reaching for a spoon for one another is too much to ask, other days you wipe down the entire room for each other. We share our fears, symptoms, and …are those chest pains? Then aaah… we realize it’s anxiety. We try to not to think of the unimaginable if COVID-19 should enter our home and community.
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Recently, my mom, who lives with bipolar disorder, was having a difficult evening and I realized she needed a distraction, an outing. But what to do when travel is restricted? My sister decided to FaceTime our brother, who lives just across the yard. She hadn’t heard his voice in a while, and as the sound of it transmitted into the room, it comforted us all. We don’t need Dairy Queen or a drive; nourishment is right here.
It brings me to tears when the strongest of us in the room is allowed to be the leader. We make a conscious decision to let the source of energy be guided by the person who has the best handle on this present moment. We allow, we anchor. The more times we come home to each other in these ways, the longer we will remember to stay here, away from shiny, quick fixes.
It’s a challenge to adjust to social distancing with 115 members in our community and 115 different perceptions. How do you blend different coping methods while maintaining relationships? How do you ask someone for more distance, when it is perceived as a personal attack by some? How do you ask for a favour, or share a hurt or smile from the day while two metres apart? It feels like a cold distance. When it’s my turn to do kitchen duty for meal preparation, I realize I’ve never heard more words of appreciation. We’ve discovered things that perhaps we should have discovered a long time ago. One of them is simpler meals. The Hutterite people have a very rich diet. We can do with less. We are fine!
The more times we come home to each other in these ways, the longer we will remember to stay here, away from shiny, quick fixes.
I’m also a teacher, and among the best messages I receive are from moms who share assignments from my students. We have switched roles. Messaging about school has become a routine, but it still amazes me how we need to create closeness without touch. I’m a hugger, but now I’ve learned to be deeply touched from a distance.
I look forward to connecting with friends in the free fitness class on Zoom, as well as my walk to the crocuses in the scruffy grass. People are offering their gifts of knowledge, energy and time for free, just like the flowers, and these classes transfer goodness from person to person. As we sit in acceptance of uncertainty, new possibilities spring spontaneously into our days. The province has begun to reopen — another era of uncertainty, and we’ll have to be deliberate in the changes we want to make, instead of slipping back into the familiar routines of community life. Right now, I haven’t dressed this shabbily in months and our glassware isn’t in line in the cupboards. It’s a beautiful jumble of artistic and messy.
Like the crocus, we are anchored, yet we allow the wind to open us.
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WALTER QUIRING says:
I am a Mennonite who wishes he were a Hutterite.