My husband looked at me from across the room, where I sat on the floor, tugging at the scratchy velcro of my daughters boots.
“You’re different than you were a week ago.”
A receipt had prompted the comment a few weeks back. It may not sound like much, but that receipt had made a bit of a journey. From the till at our local restaurant, to the hands of the young girl processing our to-go order, to my husband, to the ground outside our house. I spotted it, and bent down to pick it up. My daughter, snug on my hip, reached for it as well.
“No baby,” I quickly said, pulling her away with one arm as I snatched the receipt off the ground with the other. “That’s not clean.”
I picked up the receipt and held it away from my body. Away from my daughter. I walked into the house, put my daughter down, and put the receipt straight in the trash, touching nothing else on its way there. I turned on the sink with my elbow and washed my hands with soap and warm water, humming “Happy Birthday.” Then I dried my hands and sat down on the floor to remove my daughter’s shoes and jacket, tugging at velcro and zippers.
He’s right. Two weeks before that we were at the park. I saw my daughter bend over and pick up something. I walked over to her.
“What’s that, sweetie pie?” I held out my hand.
She looked it over, then looked up at me, and then reached out, passing me her new shiny little treasure.
“Thank you baby,” I said, holding the bit of plastic, a left-behind remnant of another child’s snack.
“What is it?” my husband asked. “Just a bit of trash,” I said. “It’s fine.”
It’s fine. There hasn’t been a whole lot of “it’s fine” permeating my world lately. The reality around me has been shifting by the week, day, hour, and I’m left feeling adrift.
A receipt on the ground. My daughter reached for it. It wasn’t fine. Something I would have let her grab and pass to me even just a week before, without even thinking, now I pulled her away.
Because it’s not fine.
I couldn’t sleep the other night. My mind spun, not so much with the possibilities, but with the utter inability to know. Will this last another month? A year? As I recently said to my sister, it’s funny how in the span of a week we have gone from, I hope we can still go on vacation, to I hope I can hug you in person.
In case there was any question in your mind, we are not in control. But maybe that’s fine. Like any parent, I have my quirks. I have the things I am fiercely resolved on and the battles I have no interest in fighting. Like a scrap of plastic from another child’s snack. It’s fine. Just pass it to mommy sweet pea, no dramatics needed.
Now it’s not fine. I watch her like a hawk, and when we go outside, we touch nothing that God Himself didn’t put on this green earth. We picked up dinner and she and I waited in the car (because after a mere five days, I didn’t care if I stayed in the car, I just wanted to go along for the drive). I watched my husband go in to pick up our Friday night treat (a beloved staple in our home that has fallen to the wayside in the weeks since), a hundred scenarios ran through my mind, and I thought to myself, This isn’t worth it. I don’t need this. And if I have changed so much in a week, I can’t help but look at myself, at my daughter, at our society, and ask myself, Who will we be at the end of this?
If this lasts a few more weeks or a month, I think most of us will look back on it as the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020. And there will be the few who will carry the burden of what could have been. Those who were on the frontlines, who will get that look in their eye when the jokes are made, that look that says they have seen something the rest of us – fortunately, thankfully – have not.
Because it was fine.
But if this lasts longer, if this lasts six months, 12 months, 18 months, as some models predict, who will we be at the end of it? There will be no looking back at this as a toilet paper shortage. There may not even be much looking back at all. There will only be moving forward, forever changed by what we have walked through.
Because it wasn’t fine.
We weigh the question: if on one side of the scale is the risk of being together, and on the other side is the need we have to be together – as families, as close communities – at what point does that scale tip? After a month? Two months? Six months? At what point does the desperate need to embrace our loved ones begin to hold greater weight than the need to stay apart?
This will change us, and that isn’t bad. Change is inevitable; it always comes around, and it always will. But how is this changing us? Long after any thoughts of vacations, sports games, or social events have left our minds, will we look back on this as the time we became afraid to be together? Will we be stronger, more resilient, less concerned with petty bickering and infighting? Will we be suspicious, will we take risks for the ones in need?
I recently saw a friend's Instagram post from awhile back: A selfie of four friends, smiling faces pressed in close, arms slung around each other. When will we do that again, without concern and need for social distancing?
I wonder what our first Sunday back at church will be like. Will we cry tears of joy, embracing each other and rejoicing that we can worship our Lord as a physically-together-body once more? Or will we be hesitant, reticent to get too close to one another, keeping our distance from each other even as we come together again?
Will we be fine?
Who will my daughter be after all this? Will this have a long-reaching impact on her life, either by her own experience or by the way my experiences shape her? Will this change the way we live, or will things go back to “normal” in a few months time?
I’ve read reflections from other parents. Parents who are watching their children change, and grieving a little. Watching their children recoil from a friend they run into on a walk. “Don’t come too close,” they say. “We can’t hug,” they say. I feel that in my heart as well. My daughter is too young for me to tell her what is going on, but does she sense it in me? In the way I hover a little closer, in the way I pull her hand back a little more quickly. In the way things that used to be fine, aren’t fine anymore.
I believe in a sovereign God. An all-knowing God. An all-powerful God. For all the moments I feel adrift, for all the moments that smack us in the face with the (ever-present, but not ever-acknowledged) reality that we are not in control, I believe with all my heart that we rest in the hands of the God who is. And I’m not afraid. Do not misunderstand – I certainly have moments of fear.
But the overarching, overwhelming understanding is that God is sovereign. All-knowing. All-powerful. So we trust. Even when we can’t see how this all ends (especially when we can’t see how this all ends), we trust.
Maybe this will all pass and be nothing more than something we look back on. That Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020. Maybe it won’t. This is the part of the written-space where I am supposed to offer a conclusion. Some helpful bit of wisdom, or even a well-thought question to leave us pondering on. But I don’t have one. None of us do right now. Not really. Maybe that’s fine.