Collateral Damage


Dark days / Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

Confession: Some things you lose and know you lose them. In the last seven or eight weeks, our family has lost church services, time with friends, travel plans, a home visit with my son, snuggles with a newborn nephew, and dozens of fun activities at the end of school. These are big losses. They are the ones we saw coming, and dreaded.

There are other losses, collateral damage as you might say, that we did not anticipate.

These didn’t come down on us like a ton of bricks. They didn’t isolate us inside our houses or push us up against the walls of sanity. But they linger around the edges of our lives, uneasy, hard to pin down. I am going to show mine in the light.

1. I lost my sense of social rules {insert nervous giggle}.

I regularly apologize to my family (and random other people I encounter) for the reams of words I am dispensing these days, in unstoppable bursts. Do I have something running from my mouth? asked a friend of mine. I looked. And then saw her meaning and burst out laughing.

I can’t remember when to stop and wait for the other person’s response. Do they just interrupt after a while, or what? How long should I gaze into their eyes at one shot? What do I do with my hands? When we’re winding down with what we have to say, do we just turn around and walk away, or how do we end this thing here?

It’s tricky for sure.

2. I missed opportunities I cannot recreate.

For me, the losses have been small compared to those of the fiancés who were planning spring weddings, the seniors who can’t cross the stage to the tune of thunderous applause, the families who lost loved ones and grieved alone.

But my sister spent her first two pregnancies on foreign soil, and this third was going to be the one I got to watch and share in. I wanted to see her great with child, and hold him while he was less than 24 hours old. I wanted to drop by with a meal, send my daughter down to help. But I met this tiny nephew first by video call, like I met his siblings.

Today, I met him for real. 13 days old. Hallelujah.

I lost not only the events – which I expected – but the foreverness behind them, the meanings, the underneath parts – which I did not.

My son is coming home two weeks late. That is eight weeks of longing for and missing him, the longest I have ever been apart from a child of mine. Ever.

Our foster placement cycled through its entirety (honeymoon, stress, normality, reunification/goodbye) – four weeks of rocking our rhythms – without me ever meeting a birth parent. There were no visits. Court was held by conference call. My friends and family caught, at most, a few minutes of meeting the children from a safe distance. They will not know them, in future times as we reminisce and groan and count our blessings.

These things are gone.

3. I had to do two hard things: make difficult decisions every day, and allow others to make them for me.

How soon will we don masks, and for how long? What will we sanitize? Which activities will we miss, and which will we attend, with precautions? Do I trust the people who are laying out the plan for me?

Who knew that so many decisions would be made each day? And with no modern precedent to guide us? No wise old people who walked this path before, and know the way?

You could call it losing autonomy.

It seems silly and slight, but over this issue we had our stiffest marital row in sixteen-and-a-half years. I was spitting mad, standing across the kitchen from a man whose reasoning I could not fathom, sending words like darts over the bar stools and into his ears (may they find their mark). Do you know what you are doing?? Realize that our whole family will pay for your decision?!?

I’m not proud of it. I have never laid it down so sharply. And what baffled me was that he could hear me, and go and choose the opposite. That’s why I was spitting mad. I already knew where we were going.

Difficult decisions. Uncertain times. And so very little control over what came down the pike.

4. Disagreement became a bigger, more inevitable part of my relationships.

Covid-19 has polarized our viewpoints, and categorized us into cheap boxes: there’s this camp, and that. Probably if I make this particular choice, I will be labelled as a, b, and c… but if I choose this route instead, I’m x, y, and z. I don’t feel comfortable in either box. But I cannot choose nothing and so hello, four cardboard walls: here I sit.

Does it matter what others think? What others choose?

Disagreement trickles down from government levels to local politics to church decision-making to social media to friendships. Certain topics become triggers, to be carefully avoided even with those who are close to us. We are astonished by their position on this, and they are stunned by ours. The relationship matters more. Let’s not talk about it if we can help it… But after a while, we can’t help it.

We should all sign a hold-harmless agreement on the choices each household makes that do not affect the group, and society as a whole. But what choices do households make that do not affect the group, and society as a whole? I can’t think of any. Echoes from my kitchen play in my head. Do you realize that all of us will pay for your decision?

This is a super uncomfortable place for a society, a group, a congregation, a family, to be in, and I can’t think how to get out of it. Our state’s lessening cautions and restrictions only exacerbate the problem, as more choices close in upon us. They do not improve it.

I hope we will remember that we’ll get through this, and that we want to get through it with our relationships still intact. I hope we will avoid getting too high on our horses, when none of us knows the implications. I hope we will stay clear of the petty jabs and the cruelty.

(See also: The Gentleness of Wisdom, on Arabah Rejoice.)

Disagreement doesn’t have to define an entire relationship. (You may judge this a truly postmodern statement until you consider my follow-up question: With which human in the world do you always agree? Now do you know what I mean?) We have history and warmth and shared joys between us. We are a team, a unit, humans, Christians, friends. We love.

I hope we remember.

5. I have been oriented and disoriented and reoriented, and I can’t go back.

Strip all the furnishings out of a room, and you may find yourself thinking hard about which ones you bring back. Look at all the space, the light. I don’t say this glibly, because Covid-19 brought pain to many, but I did not mind the housecleaning. I did not mind realizing that our countless essential obligations could, in fact, be skipped completely. I didn’t enjoy all of the skipping, but the realization behind it was kinda neat. The world doesn’t fall if you don’t go to church on Sunday. Oh my stars. Who knew?

I found out which parts I really missed, from life BC-19. And which I could do without. I spent a thousand hours with my family, and except for the chaos of our foster placement, I soaked up every one.

I thought a lot about the expectations in my life, all the should’s, and why I do what I do. I cried some. I saw myself – and “us” – more clearly than usual, and I can’t unsee what I saw, and I can’t unbe what I am.

These are the losses I didn’t expect.


You?

12 Replies to “Collateral Damage”

  1. You speak for me here in so many ways, especially the “countless essential obligations” that could be skipped and the world didn’t fall apart. I had no idea. And I’m thinking I need to be deliberate about which ones I invite back, once I can.

  2. It is so comforting to sit in this space and to read about your losses. Shari, I am sorry.
    Two days ago our family stood by my sister and her husband as they dug a grave for their first baby. “Can we bury our baby next to your babies?” they had asked. Death is harsh, cruel. This kind of grief never leaves and we are honored to share it with them.
    Mother’s Day came before that. Some deadly words from my hurting Mother came to me. They are words that cry for redemption and healing.
    Brokenness and emptiness have been in our Covid space but Jesus has been here. And how can He come unless we name the losses and invite Him inside?

  3. I live alone and don’t converse with many people these days. But I have watched and listened and wondered. “We are astonished by their position on this, and they are stunned by ours.” How can we come to such different conclusions? LRM

  4. You described our marriage stress the last month almost to a T. Also connected with some of the other relationship struggles. It seems like Satan thought he could maybe a little headway in such a time. I trust we actually grew instead!

  5. Thank you for putting all of this into words, Shari. I can especially relate with number one. Somehow, I’m just less shy at waving at complete strangers and gushing long strings of perfectly ordinary words spun quickly when I do get to talk to someone outside my four walls.

  6. There are always things to do and yet with the lack of goals or deadlines I almost lose the drive to get stuff done as I should. I feel a tad bored sometimes and yet there is so much to teach my littles in the short time I have them that I may not be bored!

    There are alot of fun things that I hear families with older children doing these days that might be impractical for my stage of family life but perhaps I can file these ideas away for later years.

    There are many opportunities to reach out in simple creative ways right now and so many people and situations to pray for.

    Well written post, Shari! Thanks for everything!

  7. I identity with this piece.

    I know you are asking your commenters to share our losses, but that’s too long and complicated for me right now.

    Say, what about a socially distant walk one of these days???!!?!

    Miss you!

  8. A huge thing for me as a mother of 7 has been absorbing all the many losses (and joys along the way) of 7 different people. It’s like being on 7 different rollercoasters all at one time.

    It’s a very disorienting and scary feeling.

  9. Thank you for this post Shari. These last few weeks for me have been just, well just. I feel like I’ve lost my ability to say no to visitors who kept showing up, not get all bent out of shape because no one remembers to wipe down the groceries before putting them away and I miss my church family.

    But there were blessings along the way. Even though, we had the occasional visitor it was a blessing to provide hospitality.
    I’ve spent countless hours praying that God would protect us from COVID-19 so I don’t need to get anxious because of groceries not being wiped down.
    Our church leadership has been in prayer over when we can meet again and I appreciate them protecting the flock. I’m grateful for being able to text several church friends and call those who can’t text.

  10. Oh my! I could relate to so much of what you wrote! I feel like one of my biggest losses has been disappointment and disbelief at some my friendships…you touched on that. I thought I knew them, and they really believe this crazy conspiracy theory? Etc etc. It has been way more devastating to me than any other thing about Covid 19. When you feel like you just can’t understand how someone you trusted could take such a stand. I really am trying to hear and not be too judgy but it is hard. And yes, it is harder now that things are opening, to know how funny to be…we have one loved one with several big risk factors. I should not care what people think about our family decisions but I do.

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