My family and I left Africa for good on my sixteenth birthday. I turned one somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Africa, so there was some poetry in our departure, but it was hard on all of us. We all thought we were going to be in Africa for many more years.
About a month before we left, my mother sat down with my brother and I and said, “When we get to America, life is going to be very different. So I want you to think about what matters to you about our life here and what you want us to make sure we keep doing together.”
Both my brother and I said what mattered most was eating together. Our family ate breakfast and supper together almost everyday.
When we settled into our new life in Houston, eating breakfast together was not so hard to manage, but dinner was another story. My brother was a better athlete; I was more inclined to the musicals and choirs. Some nights we ate late after his practice, other nights we ate early before rehearsals, but we ate together because it mattered to us.
During my twenties, when my parents and I struggled to connect, the mornings and evenings around the table were a profound memory for me. Somewhere in my late thirties, when my mother and I were reflecting on those more difficult days, she said, “There were days we hung up the phone and I thought I might not ever hear from you again.”
“That never crossed my mind,” I said. “We had eaten together too many times for me to be able to walk away.”
Even though we have no idea when this particular stage of our life together is going to be over, I hear more and more discussion about when we will “be open” again. Sometimes it is phrased as “getting back to normal,” though I think very few of us actually think that is what will happen. We can’t go back to life before Covid-19 anymore than we can go back to life before 9/11. But we will not always be where we are right now.
For all the difficulty–and it has been difficult–the break in our routines has given us the chance to see our lives from a new perspective. I have read the stories about how many people have gotten new puppies because they have the time to train them. I have found new life in getting up early before everyone else and reading, writing, and praying–new ground for an extrovert. I have loved that Ginger is home in the evenings rather than spending twelve to fifteen nights a month at church committee meetings.
In these days, I hear my mother’s question with a new relevance: “When we get beyond these days, life will be very different. What matters to you about life right now that you want to keep doing when life ramps back up?”
The question begs to be answered on a systemic level and a personal one. For “the greatest economy in the world” to come a part at the seams in a matter of a couple of weeks should be irrefutable evidence that a greed-fueled economy is not sustainable. And I want to figure out how to keep getting up to read, write, and pray. I also want to eat dinner with Ginger every night.
These waiting room days are a gift. We have a chance to move into the days ahead with intentionality. We can break normal into a million beautiful pieces. We can put ourselves back together again in a way that actually includes us all.
What matters most to you?