By Teri Baxter.
I have been a member of St. Mark parish since 1976 and as those who spoke in previous weeks mentioned, I was asked to create this personal Lenten reflection.
Seemed easy enough, but actually took quite a bit of thought and self-reflection.
What I found is that this year, this journey, for me, has ultimately been an experience of not what I lost or what I am missing, but of what I have found.
In December, 2019 – what seems like an eternity ago – my husband Bill passed away.
It was quite sudden – He was in Arizona; I was still in California.
There was no chance to say good bye, to say things I wanted to say
or maybe unsay things that had been said.
No “I love you’s” – just the phone call that he was gone.
For me, what followed was a journey of celebrations to share his memory with family and friends – both in Arizona and then in California.
At times, I would joke that Bill was like a rock star on his Farewell tour.
But in reality, it was my tour. Those celebrations, that support, those phone calls and emails, seeing so many old friends, the laughter, the love – that really was for me.
It got me through so very many mixed emotions.
We buried Bill the first week of March – right before COVID struck and the world went crazy.
Our lives were upended and all the activities and gatherings we loved were postponed or cancelled.
Soup and Stations just stopped right in the middle.
Churches, schools, restaurants – all closed
We couldn’t see friends or family without wearing masks – there would be no more hugs, no touching.
Everyone was asked to hunker down – Stay at Home and Social Distance.
So, here I was – in my house and on my own.
For me, being home alone had mixed blessings.
There was a lot to take care of, a lot to do.
And, like so many I looked around and saw things Bill and I were going to do, eventually.
My list of projects was long – but I had time.
So, I called on friends for advice, swore at Bill as to why he hadn’t done this or that, painted walls and moved furniture.
I was so much luckier than many –
I was healthy, I could pay my bills, I wasn’t in school.
I could go to Arizona to see my family. And I did go several times last year.
Like many of my friends, I could cope.
We weren’t happy, but we were okay.
Yet, fairly quickly, I realized in spite of that, it wasn’t enough.
I missed my family, my friends, my parish.
And what about others – those in our Guild. How were they doing?
Were they okay? Could they cope?
It was easy to forget that while we were being told to create that social distance, we were not being told to stop being social or to stop caring for each other.
So, in doing this reflection on this past year, I wanted to think of what was positive.
And, I realized that throughout this year, people did step up, they did come together and found so many creative ways to adapt to our new reality.
Many of our ladies are older and live alone.
But our members stepped up and calls were made and emails sent until we knew that all were with family or had friends looking in and checking up on them.
Being one of the old ladies living alone, I even received phone calls checking on me as well which was wonderful.
Living alone or not, we all needed a good story, a laugh, a “how’s it going”, a “do you need anything at the store?”
My friends were still out there.
Maybe I couldn’t see people, but there could be phone calls, Zoom calls, texts and emails – if I just made them.
Many fun memes and jokes started flying around to keep our spirits up.
They made us laugh and laughter helped so much.
When our Lenten stations were cancelled in church, they went virtual –
Soup, however, was on your own – and came with the realization that reducing a recipe from serving 50 to 1 was not as easy as you might think.
Lent ended, then Easter came and went.
Parents struggled with “Distance learning”. Two words we never knew went together.
My grandson was definitely not a fan, but it gave us a great appreciation for teachers.
Closets got cleaned, cabinets as well. Food in freezers and on shelves got used.
Ordering groceries on line became a thing – although, as we learned, it needed to be done way before you actually needed the food.
Masks were made and shared
The parish started the FLOCKNOTE email system to keep us updated and informed.
During May, our Legion of Mary members said a virtual Prayer of the Rosary daily and invited parishioners to offer their special intentions to be included in the prayers.
The church was closed. So, here at St. Mark, for the first time – live streaming was introduced.
It took perseverance and dedication; trial and error by a very dedicated group of parishioners.
But then the reality – we could attend virtual mass at our own church on Sundays.
But while the liturgy and the messages of the sermons were important and could be live streamed, the heart of the mass could not.
We couldn’t receive communion over our monitors.
We shared with Father how hard this was and in May, he found a way.
Since then, our awesome pastor has been standing outside the church – through sun, rain, cold, and smoke – all manner of weather – to give communion to those who drive to church after the 9:45 mass.
Indoor mass went through its own trauma.
More than once, on a moment’s notice, the church was closed and then reopened.
It was hard to keep track.
Mass was held outdoors on the lawn.
Amazing people stepped up to create very strict sanitizing protocols to allow this all to happen.
They are still volunteering every week so we can have this privilege.
Not all churches do.
Our SVdP never stopped supporting those in need.
Sandwiches on Sunday continued with a much smaller group, but without interruption – in April and May even making double the normal number of lunches.
In August we asked for school supplies – still needed, even more so for kids at home – and our Guild and our parishioners responded.
We found ways to have fun with a small mini raffle fundraiser which gave the lucky winner a gourmet dinner prepared by Fr. Angel and Fr. Lee.
Our Guild on the Green had two outdoor lunch meetings on the lawn at church – socially distanced, but a great chance to see each other.
In December, we got the largest response to our Advent Giving outreach program ever.
During the year,
St. Mark gota new priest in-residence, Fr. Dominic Lee.
When Maria and Jill retired, we got a new Coordinator for our Religious Ed, Youth Ministry, Confirmation and RCIA programs – Ed Ibarra.
We were blessed when Rich became our newly ordained Deacon and Russ our Deacon in Training.
So many welcoming and thank you celebrations we wanted, but that couldn’t happen – at least not yet.
IN THE END:
None of this year has been anything any of us would have wished for or could have even imagined.
And for so many, life has changed forever.
500,000 have died,
So very many suffered and then died alone – Bill died alone, but his death was quick.
This was different.
There would be no gatherings, no masses and celebrations of life with a church full of support for the families.
To me that has been heartbreaking.
Like many, I grew frustrated and wondered if God had abandoned us.
Still I prayed.
And, then I came to realize that God’s answer was there all along.
He had given us each other for support – inspiring and enabling us to best use our various talents however possible.
I’m not in a position to change the big picture, but I am in a position to determine how I get through this and how I help others get through it. We all are.
We just finished the Stations and in our last reply we said:
My Jesus, Lord …The teaching you could not impart, the sufferings you could not bear, the works of love you could not do in your short time on earth, let me impart and bear and do through you.
That’s His reply to our prayers.
This church, this building – it is just that. It is a building.
It is the community of St. Mark, the parishioners who give it life.
Christ is anywhere we choose to see him.
We bring His love into this building, but his message we take outside into our lives.
A FINAL REFLECTION:
Our parish started our COVID journey during Lent 2020.
As I speak, it is one year later and we have just finished our last Stations of the Cross before Holy Week.
Last year at this time, I was talking to my oldest friend, Greta.
I have known her since we were both 4 years old.
She is Jewish and was getting ready to do a “Zoomover” in lieu of the normal Passover Seder observance she normally does every year with her family and friends.
She was sharing with me the many rituals and realized that she didn’t necessarily know the full meaning behind all of them and wasn’t sure how to make all the food – leave alone overcoming the obstacles of buying the ingredients.
This is normally a community effort and a wonderful time to reflect on the original Passover and the long Jewish traditions.
But they were going ahead and each would make do.
I shared that I would be following the St. Mark Holy Thursday observance on line.
Told her about it and mentioned some of the things that wouldn’t happen and that our normally filled church would be basically empty as we remembered that first Holy Thursday with all that it symbolized.
At 7, when I sat down to follow the mass, I heard the first reading.
It was the story of Passover, of Christ celebrating Passover.
These two religious days don’t always align, but last year they did.
I couldn’t help but think of her sharing a Passover observance as this passage was being read in our church and realizing that we were both observing traditions reaffirming our beliefs in that same way.
And for the first time I really followed everything about Holy Thursday.
I looked at the oils, the covered crucifix, the lack of ornamentation in the church, the fact that there would be no washing of feet, that the tabernacle would be left open and really thought about why we do all these rituals.
In his sermon, Father spoke of the meanings of Holy Thursday and explained them very well.
As probably never before, I really listened.
We are used to our rituals and we can easily take them for granted, until we don’t have them.
I thought of all the voices we aren’t hearing – but then realized that they are still there.
We are all speaking and praying and if you close your eyes we can hear each other’s voices.
When we offer the Sign of Peace, no coronavirus can stop our outreached hands and hearts.
So, I take comfort in these Holy Week rituals –because they represent our faith.
On Easter Sunday, some may celebrate at home, some in the church, but our collective faith will put us all in the pews at St. Mark and our collective love and our hope will flourish knowing that what
God brings us to, He will see us through.
May God Bless each and everyone!