In one final ritual of the holiday season, I took down the Christmas tree today. It’s January 7th, 2022, as I begin writing this. It’s such a mundane task, and it seems like it always goes quicker than putting it up. I like to listen to music while I do this. It’s a task I usually do alone. Today, I watched reruns of The Golden Girls, in honor of Betty White. I was in stitches! It was a great comic relief for the other things I’m feeling right now.
I am processing two simultaneous ends in my life, both slow and evolving: the death of my religious life and the demise of American democracy. And like it or not, we are still in the midst of a pandemic that will seemingly never end.
Dismantling of Faith
I’ve been deconstructing to some extent since college, when I was finally extracted from the expected routine of going to church every Sunday. When I found myself on late nights giggling with girlfriends about our experiences from childhood, and then met with their shock when I revealed what was normal at my church, that was the beginning of the end.
The older I get, the more my dad especially shares with me other secrets from church that I never knew; things that make me wonder why they stayed. But now my parents are finally seeing a bit of what I see in my home church. I spent a significant amount of time Christmas day on the phone with them discussing their current issues with their church. It makes me so sad that this organization, this church body of which they have been members for over 50 years, has cast them aside, now that as they age and deal with medical issues, they are unable to give of their time and talents to the church, and they are not wealthy enough to give money. I was so resentful for so long that they chose to stay and support an organization that hurt me so much, and now they are personally on the receiving end of that pain. My dad has a graduate degree in theology. I know how important religion is to him. I sincerely hope my parents find both the courage to leave and to find a new house of worship that accepts them, their progressive values, and who will bring their lives some comfort. For me, witnessing their hurt is casting another nail in the coffin, leaving little possibility that I will ever return to organized religion.
Ironically, as my distrust in the church was beginning to reach a critical stage, I was asked to sing something for Easter Sunday at the church I joined as an adult. The piece I chose? I Know that my Redeemer Liveth, from Handel’s Messiah. I think that was in 2011. Even as I sang the words, my heart was feeling the split. My rational mind understood this was one last attempt to hold on to what I knew was fading: my faith in church.
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming
The other demise happening before our eyes is that of American democracy. President Biden’s speech on the anniversary of the insurrection was magnificent, but it also makes me feel like we keep throwing out whatever life preservers we can, all last hope efforts to rescue our struggling, dismantled, democracy from impending doom. A final song; one last attempt to preserve faith in something that may no longer exist. Ironically, religion is partially responsible for this, as the voices of Christian Nationalism scream especially loudly.
Some days, I watch or listen to the news, and I’m overwhelmed. I feel as though our democracy is crumbling into a pile of sand, and as we try desperately to pick up the pieces, the fine grains simply slip through our fingers, small and no longer significant, never to be retrieved again.
The once solid rock of democracy is unstable. Just like I once relied on the church for stability in my life, it, too, is unstable and unreliable. On Christ the solid rock I stand… not so much. I’ve long since processed the grief from leaving the church. But now I grieve for my parents as they realize that the church isn’t what they thought, either.
Just Because We’re Tired of it, Doesn’t Make it Over
I’m also still processing my feelings about the one thing that’s not ending anytime soon: this pandemic. Everyone seems to either think the worst is over, believing that the Omicron variant is so mild, we can ignore it, or have completely given up on fighting it altogether. Delta is still circulating, too. Hey, what’s a few more lives, when the economy is so much more important than your loved ones? (Note my sarcasm.)
I was watching a segment on the news last night. They were talking to a handful of doctors about how so many hospital admissions are not actually because of Covid, but because the patients happen to have Covid, they have to be counted as Covid admissions. This makes me so angry! It legitimizes the feelings of those who have developed a sense of comfort with this virus, a sense that it’s not as serious as many know it to be. Healthcare providers still shoulder a huge burden of care working with these patients. You still have to donn all the PPE. Just because we now know better what to expect and how to manage this condition doesn’t make it easy. And who’s to say that their problems weren’t exacerbated by the virus? It was a very one-sided report, and a slap in the face to those of us who care for these patients.
As you likely know, I work in a hospital. As a physical therapist, I may not be in Covid rooms every day, but my work is certainly affected by its presence. Our census in rehab is now so low, it may be a few weeks before I will work again as a PT. I will likely fill in for staff who are in short supply, like patient care techs. This is one reason why our census is low. It’s not that there aren’t patients who need rehab. We simply can’t fully staff the unit, and this is a universal problem in healthcare right now. It’s reflected in the new CDC guidelines for return to work with Covid, which are chilling. What about the next variant that emerges? Because it’s coming, I’m sure of it.
New Year’s Day was the roughest day I’ve had at work in a while. My patients were great, but they were all emotionally needy. I also took one of my patients for a walk outside, and we happened to walk past the ER, where we could see that there wasn’t an available chair in the waiting room. It was alarming. I gave all I had mentally to support my patients that day. I was drained. I found myself in tears as I drove home, simply digesting all of the pain I had absorbed that day.
I’m actually lucky as a healthcare provider. I work on call, not full time, so when I do get overwhelmed, I simply take a couple of days off to recharge. Many of my colleagues are not as lucky. The burnout is real, folks. No one is applauding us as heroes anymore. The signs in front of the hospital thanking us for our service are gone. No one brings our front line workers meals anymore. This work is ongoing, and we are forgotten.
Apathy is Happy That it Won Without a Fight
Maybe the real danger right now isn’t any of these threats. It’s actually apathy. If you think the pandemic isn’t your problem, if you think religious extremism isn’t your concern, or if you think our democracy will survive because it always has, you just might be wrong. If we all sit back and think that none of this affects us personally, so we don’t need to act, this is the real issue. If you aren’t trying to make things better, you are complicit in the problems, and this is how our nation will die.
So, what’s the panacea? I certainly don’t know. I think social media has been utilized to polarize our country. No one can seem to rationalize with the other side. Misinformation has been viciously spread via these avenues as well, fueling distrust in all sources of conventional wisdom. And as much as I love social media for connecting in positive ways to the running and vegan communities, it has worked equally well to disconnect, too. I definitely don’t have the answers. But I, as I’m certain most of you are, am tired of this new status quo.
Some days, I really have to get my mind out of the pattern of thinking that the world as we know it is ending. Here’s to hoping that the life preservers work. If you’re sitting on the fence about saving our democracy, now is the time to act. If you aren’t yet vaccinated, boosted, or not still wearing masks when you are in public indoors, I beg you to change your mind. Apathy cannot win.
I wish my thoughts were in a better place these days. It’s challenging to remain upbeat right now. But this is where I’m at. Thank you for reading.
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.