The things I took for granted
In person school.
Hospitals with available beds.
The peaceful transfer of power at the end of a presidential term.
Three things I took so for granted at the beginning of 2020, I didn’t even realize I took them for granted. I know that being a citizen of the United States offers me privilege that not the whole world realizes. I recognize that much of what I have comes by the fortune of when, where, and to whom I was born. What I didn’t realize was that the structures I took for granted were less stable than I thought.
I have lived through days that the stability of the world seemed shaken. I watched the second plane fly into the Twin Towers from my tenth grade civics class. I was scared to go to school after the horror of Columbine unfolded, and as the list grew year after year, to include Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland, and so many more, my fear extended to sending my own children to school. I have watched the violence arrive at churches and movie theaters, thought there is no safe place anymore. I’ve scrolled through horrifying news stories, wondering what is this world coming to, more times than I can count.
In the last year we’ve lived through unprecedented moment after unprecedented moment, history in the making, day after day, and it’s become clear that these structures are crumbling, that buildings I thought were built on strong foundations are held together with scotch tape.
At the beginning of it all, I held tight to optimism. Remembered what I’d read of the victory gardens of WWII. The kids who collected scrap metal, the women heading off to the factories, Uncle Sam saying “we need you,” and America answering, coming together, putting aside differences for the greater good. I thought, naively, perhaps, that this was our moment. Let us put aside our differences and come together, fight this invisible enemy, this virus steadily spreading around our country, around the world. This time at home would allow us to recalibrate, catch our breath, move forward with a common goal.
And then the protests started. People marched to state Capitol buildings and governors mansions, demanding haircuts. Haircuts!* They marched, with guns, demanding that our state legislators offer them the freedom to put others at risk because they didn’t want to wear a mask, the freedom to ignore a pandemic because it was inconvenient for them. *Please note, I do understand the difficulty small businesses faced during the shutdowns and do not begrudge hairstylists or others who wanted the opportunity to work during this time; but the incongruity of people marching with weapons and signs about haircuts was startling.
And then more protests started. Unrest bubbled up across the nation. A man out for a jog was killed by vigilantes and three months later, arrests were finally made. Headlines and hashtags followed unsettling events. Battle lines were drawn deeper and division grew as a racial reckoning started unfolding in the middle of the global tragedy of a pandemic raging out of control.
And then the election. And even more protests. A refusal to accept the outcome of the votes, culminating in an attack on the Capitol, a mob trying to prevent the American tradition of democracy, one of the very foundations of our country, from continuing.
And among it all, I’ve watched with sorrow as churches have hosted super-spreader events. I’ve watched flags bearing the name of Jesus flown by people spewing hatred. I’ve become more and more uncomfortable, as I ask hard questions of myself: who does Jesus call me to be right now? And what does it look like to be part of the Church in the middle of this sea of distorted American Christianity?
At the beginning of 2020, I was ready for a great year. I felt poised to tackle my plans, achieve my goals, and was full of optimism. There was so much I took for granted. I feel very differently at beginning of 2021. Instead of plans and goals and optimism, I find myself full of questions.
What will tomorrow bring? Who will we the people be? Can we shake off our selfishness, our division, our hatred, for a better future? Or will we continue to live in alternate realities, diving further into echo chambers, belittling anyone who dares to disagree with us? Can we come together for the common good? Can we put aside our differences and find a way forward, work towards the common goal of a more perfect union?
Even as the ground shakes under me, as the world seems to become more uncertain day by day, I know that this is not where my hope is found. I know that God is bigger than those things I didn’t even realize I was taking for granted. He is bigger than whether or not the school buildings are open, the hospitals are full, and what America looks like tomorrow.
As we make our way into this new year, I am more uncertain than ever about what the future holds. I have more questions than answers, but I know there is one question I want to hold above the rest, to return to day after day, to reexamine over and over, as we go through this year: in this moment, who does Jesus call me to be?