September 16, 2021

In the clouds. Runde, Norway

My friend, who happens to be the brainchild behind my blog, recently asked me to blog about life 18 months into a global pandemic.

As I sat across from her, I told her I likely wasn’t the best person for that blog post. I don’t have much to say, to be honest. She told me to write (she does that a lot), so I did.

A few years ago, my family and I had the great fortune of vacationing in Norway. We did a lot of hiking through that magical land. One excursion was to the tiny island of Runde, where Atlantic puffins make their home. It was our daughter’s dream to see these puffins in their natural habitat. We knew the hike would be a longer and tougher one for us. The puffins, after all, roost on a high cliff overlooking the North Sea.

After a winding drive on Runde, we set out on foot following quite a few other hikers towards our shared destination. We had timed this well. We knew how long the hike would take, and we knew when the puffins would be returning from their day of eating out at sea.

About 45 minutes into our hike, we veered slightly right, following a few others headed up the mountain. It took us over an hour to realize our mistake. The number of hikers had thinned, and the actual hike was quickly becoming a climb. We’d gone the wrong way or, at the very least, the long way.

We paused at a clearing, and standing in the squishy peat, our heads literally in the clouds, discussed our situation. If we turned back, there was no way we’d make it in time to see the puffins returning. If we kept going, it promised to be the hardest hike we’d ever undertaken, requiring some spontaneous navigation. We kept going.

 I’d like to tell you that in that moment we felt energized by our brave choice to surge forward. I’d like to tell you it felt amazing and empowering. I’d like to say that the four of us laughed about our predicament. But that’s not how it was.

We were concerned about our ability to reach the top of the cliff on time. We were worried about our supply of water and granola bars. We were anxious about our equipment and even our physical abilities. We were quiet, tired, unsure, discouraged, lost. Each of the four of us moved forward (or up, truth be told) alone, lost in our thoughts and digging deep into our own reserves.

 Eighteen months into this global pandemic, that’s how I feel.

Early this summer, we had a brief reprieve. A moment where we all felt like we were on the same trail, on the same path forward. Vaccinations were happening. The world was opening back up a little bit. We were able to do things together. Masks took a brief break. I had this fleeting moment of believing we all shared common goals and values. It was a brief, fragile, hopeful moment of thinking, “Ah, yes. We are all in this together.”

Then came the Delta variant.

 Now I find myself quiet, tired, unsure, lost. I find myself needing to dig deep into my own reserves for patience, understanding, perseverance and, yes, hope. I am trying hard not to be overwhelmed by the trail stretching out in front of me, uphill the entire way. I am trying hard not to be envious of the groups who went the right way, already sitting at the edge of the cliff watching proverbial puffins coming home to roost. I cling almost too tightly to my family, because at least I know we’ll share with one another, help one another, and that we are pursuing the same goal.

I worry about what this says about my ability to trust, to build common bonds, or to hold the title of pastor.

This pandemic has revealed a lot of unpleasant things about all of us. And 18 months in, I guess that’s what I am trying to figure out. Where do we go with all that has been laid bare? It’s a strange sort of reckoning, I suppose. But I just don’t know what to make of it.

So, I don’t really know, or have answers. I just keep going.

None of us know how much father, longer, or harder this will be. We only know the way to get “there” is to keep going. We knew on that day in Runde the only way to see the puffins was to keep going. We saw the puffins. We cried when we finally got there.