Just like that, a new year is upon us. Many of us are arriving on the threshold of 2022, bleary-eyed, our heads pounding with the relentless COVID-19 hangover that we’ve been nursing for nigh on two years. We’re weary; weary of wearing masks, social distancing, panicking every time we cough or sneeze. We’re done with loneliness and restraint. We want tidings of comfort and joy, of parties and long hugs with friends, and Happy New Year’s kisses and we want it all now!!
Speaking for myself, never have I been in such a mindset of instant gratification. Someone recommends a book and I download it instantly on Kindle rather than browsing through The Strand; I get a hankering for a special snack and order it through Door Dash. I know this is due, in part, to the hangover mentioned above; it’s a way of compensating for the long loneliness of these past two years and all the things we’ve been missing.
As I recognized this in myself, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend when Mary Oliver’s book of poetry, “Felicity,” came out. I think this might be my favorite volume of her poetry and, upon receiving it, I instantly devoured it, hungrily taking in her rich and evocative images and words. When I told my friend this, she said, “I am slow reading it, so I don’t become an Oliver glutton.”
Her words got me thinking about our culture of instant gratification; in an era where we can instantly download the latest book or movie we hear about onto our laptops, or tablets, or phones, taking things slow is almost unheard of. It takes patience and a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to let something unfold slowly—particularly if it’s something as wonderful as a new book of poetry. There is a frisson of anticipation I get when something good seems to be crackling in the air, as electric as lightning that strikes close enough to thrillingly illuminate without danger of causing harm.
The trick is in knowing when to slow read and when to dive in.
It’s akin to the “quickening” that happens about midway through pregnancy. This is the moment when the mother first feels the stirrings of life inside her. For me, it happened at about the five-month mark. I was worried because I thought it should have happened sooner, and I wondered if, in my lack of knowledge. I had experienced it and didn’t realize it. Then it happened one night, just as I was drifting off to sleep: a fluttering, as of butterflies–or butterfly kisses– that elicited an immediate, visceral reaction of exultant joy! There was life in me! There was something new being created within me though as yet unseen to the world and felt only by me! And, as excited and impatient as I was for this new life to be revealed, I could only wait, unable to force the process to go faster. I had to “slow read.” I had felt life stirring but it would be months before Sam would be born in his own time. And those months, too, held rich experiences that I’m glad I didn’t miss.
As I reflect on that sense of “quickening” I realized I have experienced that same sensation at other seminal moments of my life. I’ve felt that same butterfly sensation at the moment when I realized I was falling in love with someone, I experienced it when I had the epiphany of my sexual orientation and my call to ministry. These, too, are moments of gestation when I suddenly felt the existence of new life and all the possibilities on the horizon—as yet unseen by others. And these, too, required slow reading. These, too, were rich experiences not to be rushed through, but to be savored; to be in the charged atmosphere of change, without hiding in fear of being struck or trying to control where and when the lightning would, indeed, land; to succumb to the delicious, sometimes agonizing unfolding of possibilities, trusting the outcome would be what it was supposed to be.
And, though not nearly as thrilling, we must “slow read” these times we’re in now. How might we seek the gifts of each COVID-enhanced day? Find the blessings, rather than curse the things we’re missing? How might we learn to be fully present in each moment of each day, even though we long for a new day without the restrictions or uncertainty this virus forces us to endure?
As Mary Oliver instructs us in her first poem in Felicity:
Things take the time they take. Don’t
How many roads did St. Augustine follow
Before he became St. Augustine.
I need to remember I am still traveling the roads I need to travel to become Nori; none of us are who we will be and each of us will be something different, deeper, more tender, and more strong because of the road COVID has taken us on. May we enter 2022 with hope still shining deep within us, recognizing that our journey is what creates us.
And as we remember to slow read the important parts of our lives, honoring the journey, let us also remain open to those times when life and circumstances—even in the midst of a pandemic– shout “take risks! Dive in! Be headstrong!” These, Mary also advocates in Felicity:
“I Did Think, Let’s Go About This Slowly”
I did think, let’s go about this slowly.
This is important. This should take
Some really deep thought. We should
Small thoughtful steps.
But, bless us, we didn’t.
I guess the trick is in knowing when to slow read and when to dive in, and remember that new life and possibilities await all of us if we are open to them. Happy New Year!