Are we there yet?

When I was about seven or eight, and my family drove to visit relatives in Brooklyn or Long Island, or Pennsylvania, I would almost always ask my parents, “Are we there yet?” I had faulty and self-serving concepts about time and distance, and in my eagerness, thought that getting from point A to point B ought to take virtually no time at all –– which it would –– if only we had one of Star Trek’s transporters.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us, depending on who you ask, for twelve months. In my opinion, things would be far better now if we had had a comprehensive federal response from the very beginning; but we have not. And while the current administration seems to be getting a handle on things, it will still be many months before the virus stops using us like hosts in a sci-fi movie, not to “divide and conquer” but “to multiply and conquer.”

And perhaps it’s because Joel and I were quarantined with COVID-19 in May, that I not only continue to do all I can to avoid bringing COVID into the house again, but do all I can to avoid infecting others. It’s hard work, and I’m tired of it. And I think I have –– as many of you likely do too –– a serious case of panxhaustion. I want us to be over this NOW. I want to “be there” ALREADY.

And while I’ve written recently about some people’s fear of “losing agency,” I am also convicted that we can’t have community without accountability. In fact, while shopping at Meijer a few weeks ago, I said something (in the nicest way possible) to a mask-less woman about how I really hoped she didn’t catch this virus because I knew some people who died from it. Her response was “I’ll take care of myself, and you take care of yourself.” As in “Mind your own business!” She didn’t explain that a medical condition kept her from masking up. She was defensive and defiant. Who was I to ask? Maybe she did have a valid respiratory exemption. And maybe she felt worn thin by people like me who made comments like that. I don’t know. But either way, she was putting herself at risk, and she was putting others at risk.

The truth is, we’re all in this together. In Kent County. In Michigan. In the United States. In the Northern Hemisphere. And around the world –– not that inbound international flights help matters. And the duration of this pandemic, and the additional carnage it causes, will ultimately be determined by how individuals, family bubbles, and groups (with overlapping Venn Diagram communities) choose to behave; and by the small micro-pockets of infection (like small micro-climates) that are created. And understandably, predictably, we will collectively take some steps forward and some steps backward –– like a line of cars on the highway which must abruptly slow down if a car that’s ahead abruptly slows down; and then which will all take some time to regain “cruising speed.”

In his 2012 sermon, Mark VandeBrake quoted Bernadette Roberts, who wrote: “The path to the final truth of Christ, is an ongoing challenge from beginning to end. The Way is transforming and never static; as we go further and deeper, Christ is increasingly revealed, never the same; and at the end, not what we thought at the beginning. The journey is all a preparation for bearing the fullness of Truth; and if we were to see this Truth at the beginning, we would die before we got started.”

We may be tempted to quit when the going gets rough, but ironically when the going is difficult, is when God’s grace is most likely to be present. When things are difficult, it probably means you are making progress and doing the right thing, rather than when things are going smoothly. I think we are often like the small child riding with his family on a long trip, impatient to arrive at the destination, always asking, “Are we there yet?””  

We may similarly be tempted to quit following the “best practice” recommendations of the recently unmuzzled CDC, but let us remember that Hebrews 12:1b exhorts us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” And Psalm 30:5b reminds us that “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” And Psalm 90:4 helps us remember that for God, a thousand years “are like yesterday when it is past.” So for God, the question “Are we there yet?” is a moot one. God is there and so are we; and we are already saved, we are already redeemed, we are already healed, and we are already loved beyond measure. And these truths are forming and transforming us –– as God and we continue to contend together –– to choose life.

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family. He relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the ELCA N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; and in July 2020, he finished a two-year practicum to become a Spiritual Director.