I stepped forward at the Bagel Pantry to pay. A young man was doing the same beside me. Yet, as can happen, he was mesmerized by the grill and the bagels and production of delicious breakfast sandwiches. He was so focused that when he turned he ran into me.
Only, he didn’t really run into me; it was just a slight bump. Okay. It was just a mere glancing brush. I mention this because in 2019 his reaction, which was to effusively apologize and look full of fear, would only be merited had he plowed into me and dumped coffee all over me. And this story would have been interesting because he deviated from the normal “Jersey” response which is stare at the person you just knocked over with a look that says, “really, you just stand anywhere and expect people to move around you all day?!?!”
This was the moment I could really see the impact of the pandemic on our social cues. 2021 is a very different reality than 2019. After my second vaccination I was “greenlighted” to return to my habit of visiting the Metropolitan and enjoying per-haps the greatest collection of art in the world. Each time I have gone, though, my train ride has begun with a moment of confusion. I don’t know where to sit on the train. Usually, it is take the first one that is totally open or take any seat that remains. But here I found myself thinking, “is this six feet away from people?” Each time as I headed in and headed out, I was still annoyed by the folks who spoke loudly into their phone on “speaker” mode. But now I also felt bothered by remembering what a train out of Penn Station at 5:00 pm on Friday looks like. Sitting in a seat by myself I thought of what it meant to be crammed into the end of the train standing with the folks waiting for the Secaucus riders to exit. It felt unimaginable.
Now the real confession. On Sunday, June 13th, we had a lovely service with a beautiful baptism and elder’s prayer. Yet, as I walked to the pulpit I felt a bit of panic. There were a 100 people in the sanctuary. This is the most that has been in the sanctuary since March of 2020. Everything went fine; I calmed down; and I know our vaccination rate in our members must be nearly 100%. So why the panic?
I believe I am normal. After 18 months of isolation and distance and vigilance, it is going to take some time not to worry. And I believe you are normal. So it may take some time before walking into our sanctuary and just wondering if someone is in “your seat;” this will take a bit of practice before there is not a second thought.
When the session met last month, this was our conversation. We discussed the need to sing when the state goes “green;” we talked about the challenge of vaccinating our youngest friends; and then, Jen Fong had a great moment of direction. We need to offer a calm, assuring call to return to worship.
Being Protestants we felt obliged to criticize the Roman Catholic command for people to return to Mass. Long live the spirit of John Calvin! But we did more than protest, we offered a prayer for each and every one to return without being pushed or prodded. So to that end, when you are ready, and when you trust the need to gather, we are here, we are ready, and mostly, we are hoping we see you soon.