Sunday Morning ~ Cataloging Regret
Matenda nga mfulu, kapolo ndi ulesi. ~ For a free man it is “being sick”, for a slave the same is called “laziness”.
~ Chewa proverb
December 20, 2020
It is the fourth Sunday of advent. Ordinarily, I’d be at mass this morning, looking at the four flickering candles, reflecting on the symbolism, trying to stay grounded in the season, trying to maintain a balance between gluttony and contemplation. This year it is much more weighted toward contemplation. I have lots of time to think and, though, I’m trying to live in the present, recently I find myself reconciling a niggling list of regret.
I’m sitting here with a red shawl over my shoulders, a gift from my friend Donna for my fiftieth birthday. It’s an expensive shawl, rich red, soft fiber that might be cashmere or alpaca. It’s elegant. I keep it over my office chair and no one sees me wear it. Donna often wore one, dark grey, to mass but I’ve never worn mine outside my study. It’s chilly. The heat went off in my house this week, of course, on the coldest night of the year, and it hasn’t quite warmed up yet. I was indulgently heating the greenhouse, and used way more propane than I ever had. Tiny bit of regret there, but did enjoy the use of the greenhouse. The shawl is warm and reminds me of my quirky friend. I regret not having been in closer touch before she died. I wonder if she felt isolated and alone. No one expected her departure. A devout converted Catholic, she studied scripture and was every bit sincere in her spirituality. That is not to say she was saintly; she was often irritating, and while I didn’t know any saints personally, I never think of them as irritating. But now that I think of it, Jesus was probably irritating to Pilate and Herod.
While most people were having holiday parties, shopping and overeating, Donna would go on retreat during advent. That always appealed to me as I continually bemoaned the commercialism overtaking the season. Though I have spent solitary weeks during advent traveling it wasn’t really a retreat. Walking, through strange cities, I’d try to pretend I was on retreat but honestly, it was cheating. I knew I was on vacation. I’d chat up strangers and window shop every chance I had. Taking a break in a glorious cathedral for a half hour, craning my neck at mosaics and frescos didn’t count.
This year I shuffle through snow in the woods, cold and spiritual in their own way. I do a lot of thinking and that’s sort of a retreat. I have only gone to mass once since the pandemic on the Sunday after the election. I wanted to get on my knees and thank God for the outcome and it seemed silly doing that at home. But I don’t think I’m going back for awhile. I miss the community and the ritual, but not enough to take the risk, careful as they are. Until the vaccine has reached most of us, it’s another gathering I’ll avoid.
I think about the vaccine on my long walks and am grateful for the intellect and drive that made this one possible. How incredible a time we inhabit. I think about cemeteries I visited solely dedicated to plague victims and imagine carts rumbling along the streets collecting the deceased. I imagine a family dragging out one or more members to the cart and imagine what they’d think of an argument against having to get a vaccine to prevent the disease that was killing them. It is laughable. I think of how grateful I am for really smart people who thrive on problem solving, science, and ethics. I think of what an enchanted age I’ve lived in, vaccinated against most terrible diseases and taking that all for granted. I think about a boy in my school who wasn’t so lucky and was handicapped from polio. He limped around town dragging his legs attached to heavy metal braces. They looked like huge contraptions on his tiny frame. My pity was immobilizing and I regret I wasn’t kinder to him. I mean really, what was I afraid of? I regret I never told him I was sorry he’d had polio. I wish I’d sat with him when he was alone at the lunch table in the cafeteria. I wish I’d been that brave, for that’s what it would have taken at the time: courage not kindness.
A friend asked about the vaccine and if I were sure about getting it. I said, “Of course!” knowing my response was judgmental of the question. I know I’ll be way down the line and it will most likely be summer before I am eligible, but it is the only way we are going to stop this. I asked if she had any kids in her school crippled from polio? She said she had. I wonder if there was controversy about that vaccine at the time, an argument to let the population become immune naturally? Perhaps the iron lung lobby? The native population of Hawaii was nearly eradicated by measles and smallpox while those diseases ran their natural course toward herd immunity.
I recalled my Malawian colleagues being flabbergasted about the anti-vaccination discussion in our country. They could not wrap their heads around why anyone would not want something that prevents disease? I’d explain that many people have not seen what these diseases do and think their risks are overblown. They haven’t carried their dying children miles to a health center. We have been so removed from the horrors of communicable disease that some people think the vaccine is worse than the disease. They’d shake their heads in disbelief. I’d be embarrassed about having to explain this; it almost sounded like a mockery of their situation. I felt like a rich person complaining to someone starving about the price of caviar.
And yet, all this thinking changes nothing. I can’t go back and sit with that boy. I can’t change advents past filled with overspending arguments and sugar tantrums. Maybe cataloging regrets can be an opportunity to put them aside now and leave them in a pile to burn while welcoming north stars and lighter days.
Love to all,