My Covid Experience

            As Christmas approached, I realized it had been 9 long months since I had been wearing a mask. I hadn’t eaten inside a restaurant, our adult children braved the grocery store, we stopped visiting friends. We sacrificed family holiday gatherings for safety. We were toeing the “stay home, stay safe” line.

            And yet – I still got Covid-19.  My first reaction was guilt – what did I do wrong? But this is the nature of an airborne virus that doctors describe as “efficient,” meaning that it is easily transmitted.  It is virtually everywhere in our everyday environment and now it had entered my home and my family. 

            Each of us had a different experience with the disease. Our 24-year old son got a sore throat and felt a bit tired. My husband experienced three days of fever, achiness, and a lingering cough. I grew increasingly exhausted and napped for hours every day.  My doctor advised me to measure my oxygen level; when our drug store oximeter measured a concerningly low level, she directed me to the emergency room.

            The sun was just rising as we drove to UMass. I looked forward to relief from the tiredness and the constant pressure in my chest. I envisioned a warm welcome by worried caregivers who would tuck me into bed for evaluation and treatment.

            The reality of an over-busy emergency department was much different. The harried receptionist barely took my name before directing me to the “dirty room.” That description did nothing to raise my spirits. This waiting room looked like something out of a horror film with visibly ill patients slouching in a sea of uncomfortable chairs.

            Hours went by. My vital signs were checked and I was sent back to the waiting room. Having a chest x-ray raised my hopes that I might soon be seen by a doctor but again, back to the waiting room.  By 5:00 pm I was ready to give up.  My husband, who sat outside in the car all day, texted with me about the advisability of returning the following day to try again.

            Just as I stood up to go home, my name was called. That long-awaited bed was provided as they determined I needed treatment. I was transferred to the field hospital at the DCU center which was a marvel of engineering; that vast space had been converted into rows of patient rooms divided by curtains and surrounded by temporary nurses’ stations filled with computers and diagnostic equipment. It was surprisingly quiet and felt like a place of healing.

            I received extraordinary care there. Nurses, aides, therapists, and doctors checked on me constantly. Mostly what I needed were steroids to strengthen my tired lungs and time – time to rest, sleep, and recover.

            When they sent me home after five days, they offered this daunting prediction – “you will feel crummy for two more weeks.” Bedrest was recommended.

            Medicine healed my body. But prayer, compassion, love, and thoughtfulness healed my spirit. Kindness poured into my home as people prayed, sent cards, provided meals, emailed soothing music, ran errands, and delivered flowers. I heard from friends and relatives across the country who were wishing me well.

My congregation embodied graciousness and compassion by giving me the necessary, invaluable gift of time. They assured me that they would carry on the work of the church.  And they did. They continued to care for one another and for the people in our community.  They organized worship and even completed onerous tasks like annual reports and a balanced church budget.

          I am filled with gratitude – both for my healing and for the generous help that made it possible. Never underestimate the power of that prayer, card, text, or email. The caring and compassion of family and friends were powerful agents in my recuperation.

         With renewed appreciation for my health and for the power of the people of God, I belatedly enter into this new year confident that God will see us through and provide us the necessary strength and courage. May God bless us as we endeavor to share God’s hope, peace, and healing love.

Avoiding Road Blocks

The pandemic very often feels like running into a brick wall. Endless obstacles seem to have been put in front of us to prevent us from going about our daily routines. We encounter one road block after another. So much that is familiar – school, work, visits with family, church – have been completely changed.  The way we used to do things no longer works. Tasks that used to be easy – grocery shopping, family gatherings, going to worship, quick visits with friends – are now complicated by endless regulations. And some things – like the trip to England and Scotland that was on our family calendar for summer 2020 – have just not been possible at all.

What to do? It is tempting to repeatedly mourn what we have lost and what is no longer possible. Sometimes it feels like we keep slamming our heads against the wall because we are so eager to return to what was familiar and beloved.

And yet. I believe in a God of resurrection. I believe in God who offers new life in the face of death and hope where none is to be seen. I believe in a God of endless possibilities and a faithful God who has seen generations of humans through plague, war, starvation, homelessness, and more

If I can just stop focusing on what I can’t do, perhaps I will discover alternatives that are waiting to be revealed. If I can pull my gaze away from the wall that is blocking my path, maybe I will notice hints of other possibilities.

There is no denying the enormous loss and sadness that the pandemic has brought into millions (billions?) of lives. But this is not the end of our story. There is a way forward – it just is not the way that we expected or even the way that we wanted and planned on.

This Sunday will offer another example of that. Our congregation will gather for worship. We will not follow in the footsteps of our religious ancestors and meet in our beautiful sanctuary in our classic New England church. Covid regulations prohibit large indoor assemblies.

Fortunately, we worship a God who reminds us that it is not a building that brings us together, but rather the Spirit who invites us to worship and give thanks. We will explore new ways to be the people of God. We will discover new power in Jesus’ words, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20). On Sunday morning you will find us on the East Woodstock common. It will be different – we will wear masks and everyone will bring their own lawn chair. But it will be worship because God is faithful and God will be there.

We don’t want to be so fixated on what isn’t that we miss what can be. When we confront a road block we need to wonder where God is leading us next. If we can’t immediately find the way forward, we need to be open to God’s guidance through those dark valleys to the Promised Land awaiting us. It’s time to search for ways around the walls that are blocking us and discover creative new ways to move forward.

Fan mail for Dr. Fauci

Dear Dr. Fauci,

I am not a fan of the message that you keep giving America – those cold, hard facts about the pandemic. I am, however, in awe of your ability to calmly and consistently deliver factual information that will help all of us get through this troubling, tiring, overwhelming time of pandemic. I admire your ability to seemingly ignore all the critics and nay-sayers as you faithfully adhere to your mission of sharing vital updates in understandable ways.

            I have heard you answer the same question from multiple reporters with unfailing courtesy. I have never heard you mock or belittle even the most inane question. I have a deep respect for your ability to stay focused on providing as much help and encouragement as you can. You consistently treat others with respect which makes you approachable. We can all learn from your wisdom.

            I can only imagine that it is not easy being you. You are under intense media scrutiny every day. Your words are parsed, examined, and quoted. You are criticized for not providing happy news. You are mocked for not grasping the economic impact of a medical crisis even as you explain that you are outlining a public health crisis. You are dismissed for admitting that there is still much that we don’t know and that the scientific community is uncovering new information on a daily and even hourly basis. You are our faithful guide through this complex, ever-changing journey.

You are, if you’ll pardon me mentioning it, old enough to retire. I imagine there might be times when you think, “I don’t need to be doing this. I could be sipping a cool drink in the shade somewhere.” And yet you keep going. You work long hours on behalf of humanity. Your refusal to give up or turn away benefits the entire world. Your courageous dedication shines through. And I am deeply grateful.

Thank you for your service. Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you for working to save all of humanity.

With gratitude,

Rev. Dr. Susan J. Foster

Open Letter to Betsy DeVos

Dear Secretary DeVos,

            Threats are not helpful. Informing schools that they must fully open in person or risk losing their federal funding does nothing to solve a problem that is affecting every family in our country.

            I wonder if you have taken the time to really listen to those involved in the question of how best to educate our children in the midst of a pandemic. Parents, teachers, aides, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers are just some of the people who are agonizing over the best way to provide a safe and productive school year.

Certainly everyone wants the very best for our children. We want them to get an education, socialize with their peers, profit from group activities, be challenged and inspired by conversations with classmates, gain independence by negotiating the structure and discipline of the school day, and benefit from the caring wisdom of teachers and aides.

            But.

            Have you heard the concerns of teachers who already work in over-crowded classrooms? Have you imagined children jostling one another in hallways and playgrounds? Have you wondered how teachers will enforce any rules about masks or social distancing while trying to teach?

            Anguished conversations are taking place in homes across the country. Parents want to get this decision right. They simply cannot be certain. None of us have experienced a pandemic before. The amount of conflicting and confusion information is overwhelming.

Parents have been valiantly juggling their work and parenting responsibilities. It would be easier to simply send the children to school. Most children are yearning to be with their friends again. But the tough job of being a parent is making hard – and sometimes unpopular – decisions. The stakes are very high.

That’s why simply threatening school systems with a lack of funding is ineffective. This is a time for compassionate leadership. It is time to recognize that compromises may be necessary. It is time to understand that one size does not fit all and that creative solutions will be necessary.  

Parents and teachers don’t need threats. They whole-heartedly want to find a good, safe solution for their children. They need someone to acknowledge the challenges and to work alongside them.  They need someone to listen to their concerns and to help discover new ways to meet this unprecedented challenge.

It may be that the answer to this dilemma is a moving target. The solution that works in the fall may not be practical in the winter. We are all going to need someone who has the flexibility to respond to this evolving crisis. My hope is that you, Secretary DeVos, can express your concern for our country’s children by offering that kind of leadership.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Susan J. Foster