Half a lifetime ago, I read “Their Eyes were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston. It’s a crushing story of 3 generations of black women (the eldest being a slave; the middle being the progeny of the eldest who was raped by the Master of the House; and the youngest, the granddaughter). I mean, it’s a great read of US civil-war era African American experience, but it’s a heavy read.
I don’t remember a ton about the plot development anymore, but there’s one line that has stuck with me all this time:
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer”
My gentleman associate and I are settling in to the next however-many weeks of mandatory work-at-home. We’ve set up the Sweary Command Center in our dining room, with 4 monitors and a laptop and a desktop and two keyboards and two mice and 3 headphone/headsets plus the spaghetti of cords supporting all this… We sat there on opposite sides of the table with our bank of monitors separating us, each with headphones on, mumbling curse words about the day’s frustrations to no one in particular. Together but not. The absurdity of it, as I took all that in, is worrying to me. And I wonder which kind of year this is.
On the one hand, the path forward from here isn’t clear. Every day there are new developments, a new list of companies that will shut down; a new area of the city that’s now off-limits; new announcements about when students will return to school, or not; new totals of positive tests and deaths. It feels impossible to know what will happen tomorrow, never mind in a week or 2 months, or 6 months. For a very long time, we’ve all been counselled to make SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. It feels like that’s kind of all been swept away and replaced with some hand-wavy vagaries. We’re not-long away from doing FY2021 goal planning at $Dayjob, and it kind of feels for naught. There’s no off-site professional development until September. We’re running at a flat out sprint to help get clients the information they need for course continuity, in addition to the usual monthly software release cadence. Goals seem… moot. Definitely suggests a year that asks questions.
On the other properly-sanitized hand, a year that gives answers come in the form of the thousands of tiny efforts that are adding up to huge behavioural shifts to help us all see the ass end of this epidemic. A year that gives answers says “Look what you can achieve when you come together”. It looks like the whole world committing to staying home to stop – or at least slow – the scorched-earth policy of this virus. It comes in the form of distilleries switching whole production lines from beverages to hand sanitizer. And they’re donating it to groups who work with the homeless, shelters, and other places that might not be able to take advantage of established supply chains to keep their volunteers (and clients) safe. It comes in the form of hydro companies removing time-of-day premiums to support those working from home. It comes in the form of people removing the top of their mailboxes or finding a way to fix it open so that mail carriers don’t have to touch as many surfaces to do their job. It comes in the form of everyone finding new ways to support and foster and develop community when we can’t go out and spend time with our friends and neighbours and loved ones. These are the answers to “How will we get through this?” Here’s how we’ll try – here’s how we’ll succeed.
There’s another quote that I often meditate on:
Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase (Martin Luther King).
Those of us who have a little uppercase-F-Faith learn, over our lifetimes, to look around and see the sacred in the ordinary. Though I can’t see the whole staircase, and I don’t know what new and scary obstacles may be just outside what I can see, I have faith to step forward. Doesn’t mean it’s not scary. It just means we look at how we can get ourselves and our community through the crisis. Whatever the crisis is.
This Lent, may I step forward no matter how much staircase I can see, and may there be answers in each step.