Here we are almost 11 months into a pandemic that has turned our lives upside down. We’ve adjusted: we reach for our masks, avoid crowds, don’t invite friends over, wash our hands. But today, thinking about this, I was stuck by what I miss most: strangers. And I believe that this is particularly difficult as many of us are sustained by people we don’t know.
Before the pandemic I was busy: I was teaching workshops for library staff, promoting my books, writing, and had an active schedule as a volunteer with my therapy dog, Rudy. We worked with special needs students in two schools, visited two local hospitals where we met with patients in locked wards as well as throughout the hospital, and on occasion, when there was a trial of a young person, we showed up in court.
Meeting strangers expanded my world. It connected me to lives that are very different from mine. It exposed me to situations I couldn’t have imagined, like a seven-year-old boy sitting by himself in a small, white room in the crisis center. It pulled me out of myself and also gave me new ways to be myself. I was the teacher, the volunteer, the nice lady with the dog. I could see the difference I made. I felt useful. (Even my dog, Rudy, seems a bit bored with no work, and I can’t say the word “work” without him running to the back door.)
I’ve been reading the letters of Henri Nouwen in a wonderful collection titled “Love, Henri”, which sums up my goals for the New Year and articulates exactly where I believe many of us are right now:
“Well, no wishes but much hope, no big plans, but trust, no great desire, but much love, no knowledge of the future, but a lot of empty space for God to walk in!”
Stonington Harbor, sunset