It occurred to me the other day that it has been almost three months since I shook anyone’s hand—or had any other form of physical contact with any person who is not in my family. And I think the last hand I shook was Paul Washer’s. The last day I was out of the house before everything went into lockdown, he was in town and we spent the afternoon and evening together. The time concluded with me interviewing him as part of our mid-week service. I bid him farewell, shook his hand, went home, and learned a day or two later that we were being asked to stay home indefinitely. And all these weeks later, we’re still being asked to stay home and it’s still essentially indefinite. Our aptly-named Conservative Party is in power here in Ontario and is taking a very cautious approach to the pandemic. While most stores are now free to open (provided they maintain social distancing, of course), we are still expected to stay put as much as possible. We can meet in groups of up to 5 people when necessary, but, again, only with distancing or masking in place. And so we remain mostly at home. But at least if I never shake another hand, Paul Washer’s will have been the last.
To be clear, I don’t begrudge the government for their cautious decisions or relatively slow pace. I know these things are complicated and I know the Toronto area has had a very difficult time getting the spread of the virus under control. I don’t see that it would do me or anyone else much good if I were to grumble about their leadership, and I’m glad enough to leave the public health decisions to people with some expertise in infectious disease. That said, I’ve had a couple of opportunities lately to engage with decision-makers and, along with other pastors, have been able to express both appreciation to the government and a desire for clear and timely guidance to churches. As much as I would like to eat at a restaurant or take my daughter to her soccer games, the area that most concerns me is public worship. I long to worship with my church; I long to see my fellow church members. I’ve been able to express that to my government (as have many others) and now wait to see when they will take action.
In the past few weeks I’ve seen a lot of articles about the mental and emotional toll of lockdown, and I think we are beginning to experience some of that in my home. While we do have fellowship as a family and fellowship even among believers (since we all profess faith) it’s still obvious we were meant to experience fellowship beyond family. Zoom and phone calls and FaceTimes are wonderful, but they are pale substitutes at best. And then there’s just that weightiness that comes with interrupted plans and shattered dreams and uncertain futures and all the ways that change has been forced upon us. There is the harsh reality that we have worshiped at home alone for 12 consecutive Sundays. We are still doing well, but I increasingly feel the need to add an important caveat: We are doing well considering the circumstances.
The kids continue to go about their tasks—the oldest two working full-time at the grocery store and the youngest with very part-time work and very part-time school. My son has also begun his summer course from Southern Seminary—the doctrine of salvation, I believe. My girls were both supposed to graduate in a couple of weeks (one from eighth grade, the other from twelfth) but those ceremonies have been canceled. So, too, has prom. We are searching for some kind of alternative way to celebrate, but with pretty well everything shut down, it’s hard to find any good options. Take them out for a nice dinner? No, restaurants are closed. Take them out to have a special day at an amusement park or other site? No, those are closed too. Call a surprise party to celebrate with friends? No, gatherings are forbidden. Perhaps something will open up or become possible before then.
Because the great majority of my 2020 conferences had been preemptively canceled by the organizers, I chose to remove myself from the couple that remained so I could fully focus my year on writing. (I still do have one conference in Norway in October, but I am skeptical that Norway will be willing to receive me and that it will be possible for me to get travel medical insurance.) So for the first time in ages, I am really bearing down into the writer’s life, rather than the writer’s-speaker’s-traveller’s life. I think I am growing used to it and even enjoying it, though I do occasionally find myself looking wistfully at the few planes that pass overhead, wondering who is aboard them and where they are headed. I’m ready to go somewhere (anywhere!) but because I can’t, and probably won’t for some time, I refocus on my writing. I’ve got one book underway with an October 1 completion date and the prospect of another really neat project immediately behind it.
And on that note, I should probably finish up this little article and get back to my book.
A photo I took along the shores of Lake Ontario