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Sunday Reflections: Things I Don’t Know if I Can Forgive You For, Part II, a Lament for a Year in a Deadly Pandemic

A year ago, I was spending Spring Break in California with my Dad. I remember the rumblings starting, the idea that we were in a deadly pandemic. And I started to get worried about my Dad. About getting home before they shut everything down.

I sat outside eating ice cream with Thing 2 and my Dad. There is a local ice cream place that sells this ice cream that we’ve never found anywhere else. When we go visit my Dad it’s the only thing on her list of things we must do. It’s their tradition. She loves her grandpa and that ice cream. So we sat there, eating ice cream, and I had no idea what the world would be like.

On a Saturday morning we went to the Los Angeles air port and said goodbye to my dad. It was nearly empty. I wondered if it would be the last time that I would see him alive. I held him extra close and extra long as I said goodbye that morning. Later that night, the news would show that there was chaos at airports all around the world as people were trying desperately to get home before everything locked down for real. Two of those airports were LAX and DFW, places we were just hours ago. As I looked at those pictures I knew that so many of those people would get sick and that we had dodged our first bullet in this pandemic.

After we got back from spring break, school didn’t start up again. They extended spring break. Then they extended it again. And then we learned that Thing 2’s favorite teacher had died. Just a couple of weeks ago she had sat and learned at his feet, basking in the warmth of a good teacher who nourished her brain and her soul. And now he was dead.

School went virtual. It was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because Thing 2 has ADHD and it turns out that going outside and jumping on the trampoline after she completed every subject really helped her. A curse because she also has dyslexia, and it turns out she really really really needed her dyslexia intervention and it just didn’t work over virtual.

In early April, I grew incredibly tired. So exhausted. My body felt a weariness in my bones that I could not imagine. And I coughed. I coughed so much. I kept trying to tell myself it was only allergies. But even my husband looked at me and said, your allergies have never been this bad before. I was sick for over a month. Just bad allergies I kept telling myself.

Riley also got sick. She developed a weird rash on her body. She got really bad diahhrea. She slept more than even her, a champion sleeper, could possibly sleep. And then the news started talking about how kids her age were sick in different ways then the adults around them. They started talking about having Kawasaki Disease like symptoms and it terrified me because as a young child, Riley had actually had Kawasaki Disease. And we began to realize that Riley and I probably were sick with Covid.

By this time we were coming out of it and healing, so we never did get tested. We’ll never know for sure. It was early on and it was chaos.

We tried to fill the times by making the day to day fun. We did sidewalk chalk drawings for people passing by. We went on car rides to find teddy bears in windows. We made zines and mailed them to strangers. We dressed up for a fancy dinner in our backyard.

And we tried to be safe.

I posted on message boards trying to find toilet paper. I facetimed my parents and asked them to keep safe. And I sat in my house. We binge watched comfort TV. We developed new rituals. And we tried to help our children deal with the emotional toll of living in a deadly global pandemic. I never imagined that parenting would involve navigating a deadly global pandemic. There were no parenting handbooks for this.

I went to a local Black Lives Matter protest but made my kids stay home, both because of the virus and the potential for violence. We spent a lot of time navigating what it means to be privileged white and anti-racist in this world, in this country. We talked. We prayed. We tried to figure out what we could do to help make the world a better place while keeping ourselves and the people we loved safe from a deadly virus.

At the same time, the election started to grow near. Even my husband began to grow anxious. We had seen the then incumbent President Trump lie and lie again about the pandemic and we knew we needed real, compassionate, honest leadership to help navigate the country out of this deadly quagmire. And the rumblings of Civil War increased. As Christians, we saw people we had loved and had broken bread with refusing to wear a mask. Kids I had taught in Sunday school went to church and came home sick. Their parents died. And daily we grew anxious. And disappointed. We no longer recognized this world we lived in, or these people who we had studied the Bible with. We haven’t been inside a church in a year now, but we haven’t stopped praying.

Riley turned 18 and voted for the first time. What a profoundly stressful time to be a first time voter and trying to navigate American politics.

Every night the girls and I would join hands and pray.

There were glimmers of hope. Biden/Harris won. Our family was staying safe. But the political rhetoric was growing divsive. Scary. Deadly. Anyone who was paying attention to the politics knew that our political environment was kindling and any wrong word could be the match stick that ignited it. In my 48 years of life I have never been so afraid.

On Christmas Eve, I talked to my Dad who told me with a cautious tone that my stepmother had gone to bed sick. We all knew what it meant that this woman who loved her family and loved Christmas had been too sick to do Christmas. It was the moment that changed everything for my family.

By the end of December, 13 members of my family had Covid, including my Dad. My Dad had lived through pancreatic cancer, multiple surgeries, and more and now he had Covid. How many miracles did one person get I wondered quietly.

On December 31st, I entered the New Year with tears, anger and anxiety.

On January 6th, I emailed Thing 2’s teacher and told her she would not be coming to school that day – they do a type of hybrid learning – in case the 2nd Civil War broke out. Riley opted to go to school that day, but she didn’t stay there. Sometime in the early afternoon a friend texted me and said, “Holy Shit.” I knew that what I feared was happening.

We live in a really conservative area of Texas where every one is boasting all the time about the guns they have in online message boards and rhetoric had grown scary. Our fear had been building. I had no idea what was going to happen next. No one did. I have never been so afraid for my country, not even on 9/11. Because this time, the danger was coming from inside the house and my neighbors could turn out to be just as deadly as those trying to kill the Vice President.

I spent January worrying about my country and waiting for the call to tell me any number of one of my family members living in Southern California had died. They took my Dad to the emergency room but there was no room to be had. A person was dying every 6 minutes from Covid and I wondered which time it would be someone I loved. January was the most horrific month of my life. I don’t even have the words to describe it. I lack the narrative skills to convey the fear, the anger, the resentment, the anxiety and the soul sucking sadness that pulsed in our home as if its very foundation was laid on a ground that wisped emotion like a fog that blocked us inside.

On January 20th, our first female Vice President was sworn in. I had wanted to watch this historical moment with my girls my entire life, but we did not turn on the tv on this day because I did not want the girls to see a live assassination. I sent my girls to school and set myself down and prayed. We watched clips of it afterwards once I knew that it was safe to do so. I showed them the clips of Amanda Gorman reading her inaguaral poem over and over again.

February came and several family members were still holding on. They still are. It seems now like they will survive, but the health effects have been long lasting. It’s been almost 3 months now and my Dad is still on oyxgen 24/7. Other people have other issues. It turns out survived is not the same thing as recovered. I fear that the true toll of this pandemic will take a long time to figure out, and so many people lied and tried to hide the truth at the beginning it may hard to ever fully learn it.

Then came the Texas storm.

Then came the difficult college news.

2021 is kicking our butts in the Jensen home. Though it feels like we are slowly starting to dig ourselves out of the emotional pit we spent most of this year in. It feels so deep, it’s hard to imagine truly ever climbing out.

Things 2 continues to grapple with the emotional burden of having loved and lost a teacher. Her favorite teacher died almost a year ago. She also loves his replacement and sometimes finds herself feeling guilty for that. She knows that this new teacher is only there because the old one died of Covid. I have told her that she can feel sadness about his death and feel joy with the new teacher. That she can love them both. That we are emotionally complex creatures and it is okay to have a lot of strong, sometimes even conflicting emotions at once. Sometimes at night she comes in and sleeps on our bedroom floor, and we let her.

The Mr. and Riley

Last year we all got our passports made. It turns out that my husband’s coping mechanisms were trying to figure out which country to flee to when the second Civil War happens so that he can keep his family safe and eating a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal every night. So we had our passports made, he researches where the best countries to be an expat are, and I buy Lucky Charms at the grocery store. I didn’t even know he liked Lucky Charms until this pandemic year. He’s eaten through a lot of boxes of Lucky Charms.

Riley has had her own challenges. We’re helping her navigate them. She has spent her senior year of high school in lockdown. She has struggled with some mental health issues. She voted for the first time. She reads YA books and doesn’t know now what it’s like to go on a college visit, or on a date, or to a high school party. She bakes a lot. She reads a lot. She prays.

It’s been one year since the pandemic started. It’s been one month since the Texas storm. It’s all sucked. We have not all had the same pandemic. Many have had it so much worse than us. Many have had nothing happen and don’t even think it was real. But so many of our kids are carrying around so much trauma.

I don’t care about my kids grades. I don’t care about my kids test scores. I care about their trauma. I care about their survival. I care about who they are becoming as they watch a world burn and see the adults around them be selfish and ugly and liars and killers and . . . my heart breaks for my kids.

It’s not just their physical survival I worry about, but their spiritual survival. Their mental and spiritual well being. A lot of truths have been revealed this past year about who we are, what we value, and the lengths we will go and what we’re willing to sacrifice and it’s an ugly truth. I wonder what the color of our souls is after a year like this and how we get it back to golden.

I don’t know how to forgive the people who refused to wear a mask and contributed to the death of people I love. I don’t know how to forgive the president who lied and cheated and tried to do an insurrection. I don’t know how to forgive the people who told me to love my neighbor as myself and then cheered as our neighbors stormed the Capitol and tried to assassinate the Vice President and members of Congress. I don’t know how to forgive myself for the fear and anger and anxiety in my heart.

But I’m trying to navigate this all, and lamenting a year lost in a deadly pandemic.

And we continue to pray.

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