To everything–turn, turn, turn–
There is a season–turn, turn, turn–
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
I remember hearing this song on the car radio when I was four or five years old, gently telling me that there are both good and bad things in this life on Earth, and that’s okay: everything has its value. I was an anxious child who needed to hear that a lot, needed reassurance that the scary things in life are balanced by warmth and love and rightness. I felt cradled in the lap of this song. I felt included among the people who turn, turn, turn through the dance of life together.
Some time later, I learned that the song lyrics were lifted almost word for word from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. These wise words originated not with the grown-ups of my time but with people three thousand years ago. Not only am I not alone in craving balance and comfort at this time, but long-ago people felt the way I feel! We’re all people on Earth, turning, turning, turning, as some things change and others don’t, and we each go through some good spins and some bad, a time to every purpose.
Often, we get to choose the way we turn–sometimes for ourselves, sometimes by the majority or people in power deciding which way we’re all going to go. Other times, we all have to turn suddenly when a huge obstacle pops up in our path.
That’s what happened one year ago last week, here in the United States: We’d been zipping along down Route 2020, vaguely thinking the coronavirus was far away and would be sure to take the bypass rather than jam up our traffic, and then suddenly we were all diverted down an off-ramp, right away, hurry home and just stop everything.
(Pause to acknowledge that it never was literally all of us staying home–for doctors, nurses, and other essential workers, life got busier at that point and infinitely more stressful. Thank you for doing these jobs to care for all the rest of us!! I’m writing here about the experience of staying home and social distancing, which I know has affected essential workers’ lives outside of work, too.)
This turn was big and sharp and sudden. It was a big swerve or, as they say in “A Pail of Air”, a Big Jerk. Thanks to that big jerk of a virus, we all had to give up almost all kinds of normal human interaction for Lent! And although this didn’t start until the middle of Lent, it also didn’t end at Easter; this has been the longest Lent, wrapping all the way around the year, and it still won’t really be over by this Easter!
Turn, turn, turn . . . Okay, so, now we have had a time to refrain from embracing. Nearly all of us feel it’s been long enough, way too long, we never wanted to do this in the first place, and we are so over it now!!!
We have that in common. But as soon as we caught our balance from the sudden swerve, people started to argue about what to do next: how long to stay home, how much to reopen which places, whether to wear masks, who can travel where, etc., etc. Instead of joining together to fight our common enemy coronavirus, we’ve split into bickering factions.
A time for peace; I swear it’s not too late.
Even as a little child, I knew that sometimes people have such big fights that they kill people they don’t even know! What kind of planet is this where such things happen?! That’s just so ridiculously wrong that–that it could change at any moment. Turning the words of Ecclesiastes into a song, instead of despairing over how few times of peace humankind had managed to have over the past three thousand years, Pete Seeger added six words: I swear it’s not too late. Turn!
Turn from the temptation to get out there right away and push the boundaries of exposure. Turn from the temptation to sneer that someone deserved to catch the virus because he wasn’t careful enough. Instead of casting stones, let’s turn toward gathering stones together to build our future.
Once again, spring will come. Here in Pittsburgh, we’ve just reached the stage where new flowers open every day. If we cannot sit amid stained-glass windows on Easter morning, instead we can sit amid tulips–and we can do that every day! We have the privilege of enduring Easter in the same little patch of Earth where we were last year, all year, watching the seasons turn, turn, turn, and now we’re back again, and this spring is like other springs but also different, just as we are still ourselves but also different.
Once again, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is and was and is to come, evermore and evermore, whether we’re cheering from the bleachers on April 4 or not. If you’d like to go to church, but it’s closed or it’s not safe for you yet, celebrate the holidays at home, you and all your household, and turn it into one of those experiences you’ll remember from this second unprecedented year in a row!
As we wait for our vaccines, as we wait for economic recovery, as we wait for all the things that made our normal lives so rich . . . let’s give ourselves credit for getting through this. Changing an everyday habit is never easy; changing many habits at once, losing control of what we’re going to change and when as we try to survive an emergency situation, feels unbearable, yet we have borne it. Fasting for six weeks is a traditional way to gain insight into what you truly need; fasting for more than a year while the endpoint keeps moving just sucks.
If you’d told me a year ago how long this was going to go on, I would have despaired and thought I’d never make it, yet here I am. Others are not. The virus seized a time to kill, taking several people I knew and hundreds of thousands more whose time to die could’ve been years later if this hadn’t happened. We’ve also lost people to other causes, and our time to mourn has been weirdly distorted so that we’ll probably be hit with another wave of grief when we finally go back to the places where we used to be with them and they really aren’t there anymore.
Every year on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that our bodies and all the things of our daily lives are but dust, temporary and insubstantial compared to the eternal truths. As I said in Holy Recycling: It is only by acknowledging the dust that we can begin to see through it. We have spent a whole year struggling to keep our own dust together and avoid blowing away anyone else’s, and it’s been a big mess, but it’s just a particularly difficult stretch of the road toward being responsible for the gifts entrusted to us: our lives, our health, our resources, our big beautiful planet that is still determined to show us what wonderful things it can build from dust.
One year ago today, my daughter and I took a long hike in Frick Park, and I took this picture of her at a turn in the trail.
Only tiny bits of green were visible in what we knew would become a lush forest, just dripping with leaves, over the course of the next two months. Leaves are lovelier because we have been without them. But during the time when the leaves are gone, we can see through the forest to the next mountain, and so much more sunlight can reach us! To everything there is a season.
We can complain about what we’ve experienced in the past year–and I certainly do, sometimes!–but we also can strive to survive it well, to learn what we really value, to become stronger and better people with interesting stories to tell. We didn’t choose this particular turn in our lives, but we each have a role in determining what comes next.
All last week, as I thought back on what things were like a year ago, a bit of another song kept running through my mind, a song my mother was practicing when I was a teenager. It’s about some sort of disaster, but I purposely haven’t looked up the full lyrics because I want to focus on the message of its refrain:
…and can you keep your head, your backbone, or your heart?
We all found out the answer on the day it fell apart.
In times to come, what stories will you tell about the time when life as we knew it fell apart? How about the time when we put it back together?
Visit Hearth & Soul for more inspiration as we move into a new season!