STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 54

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 54, May 6, 2020
“Bittersweet”

                “Don’t touch those cookies Wayne.” My mom had just made a batch of her famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. The smell of those cookies had drawn me into our kitchen. But it wasn’t time yet to have the cookies, so my mom told me not to touch those cookies. Then to be sure I could not touch the cookies she put them on the counter, safely out of reach. I was four years old. I could not even see the top of the counter, much less reach it. The cookies were safe. Seeing that the cookies were safe my mom left me in the kitchen and headed off to fulfill yet another of her endless duties keeping a young family functioning. My mom left me in the kitchen…alone…with the chocolate chip cookies.

                No sooner had she left than I set my mind to tackling the problem before me. The cookies smelled good. The cookies were on the counter. I was standing on the floor, barely knee high to a grasshopper. How could I get from the floor to the cookies? Ahhh…my young eyes noticed a cord hanging down from the counter that was home to the coveted cookies. If I just grabbed that cord and pulled myself up, the cookies would be mine. I grabbed the cord and pulled. Unfortunately, the cord was attached to the coffee pot. Equally unfortunate, and actually quite dangerous, the coffee pot was filled with extremely hot coffee. When I pulled the cord, the pot tipped over and the hot coffee scalded my leg. The burns were severe.

                That must have been sometime in the late spring. What I remember is my burned leg was bandaged. The pain was constant. But the lingering pain from the burn was nothing in comparison to those days when my mom would take me to the doctor, who would proceed to remove the old skin. It must have broke my mother’s heart to hear me scream in agony.

                On top of that, my leg was bandaged all summer, meaning I could not go in the water. Summer in the central valley of California is filled with days well over 100 degrees. Swimming is the one escape from the heat. Here I was, four years old, and I could not swim all summer. I was in quarantine. Unable to swim, my leg wrapped in an uncomfortable bandage, subjected to regular visits to the doctor where I experienced the excruciating pain of the removal of the old skin and the cleaning of the wound, that summer of quarantine was a bitter time for little Wayne.

                Our neighbors had a pool. They would invite all the Eberly kids to come swimming on hot afternoons. My siblings would frolic and play, splash and shout “Marco Polo” with their friends. I watched. I was in quarantine. I could not get near the pool for fear my bandage would get wet, which would be disaster. It really was a miserable summer. It was a bitter summer. But for about ten minutes every hour, there would be a brief time of relief. Our neighbor’s dad would come out to the pool once an hour and tell all the kids to get out of the water. They would clear the pool. When it was all safe, he would turn to me and say, “Wayne, now it’s your turn.” For a few moments I would put my good leg in the water. I couldn’t move at all, for fear of splashing onto my bandage. But I could put that one good leg in the water. I have to admit I sort of felt like a king. My quarantine was halted, even for just a brief burst of freedom. I had the pool all to myself. In a summer that was largely bitter, those moments with my leg resting in the pool were sweet. Those moments were incredibly sweet.

                We are all facing a bitter summer in 2020. For those of us in Rhode Island, so much that we look forward to and anticipate in a community situated along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean will be different. It won’t be just a bitter summer. Graduations halted, summer trips in jeopardy, economic uncertainty and fears about jobs and rent and mortgages, all related to a lethal virus that has caused great sickness and death, this Coronavirus Crisis is a bitter experience for all. Thinking back on my summer of quarantine so many years ago, I pray that somehow these bitter times will be punctuated with moments of sweetness.

                Our neighbors that summer, our neighbors our whole time we lived in Hanford, California were the Ramms. Mr. Ramm was that lifeguard who was a lifesaver, clearing the pool for me to have a fleeting respite from my bitter summer of quarantine. Anyone who has ever heard me preach a sermon has heard about Mr. Ramm. Mr. Ramm was not only our neighbor he was also a pillar of our Presbyterian church. Mr. Ramm was a huge man, especially from the perspective of a little boy. And his hand was gigantic. I know. I would get lost in that hand every Sunday morning. Showing up to church, a little guy trying not to get under somebody’s foot, Mr. Ramm would notice me. He would call out my name with his warm and welcoming voice. And then he would extend that gigantic hand and shake mine, like I belonged at church. Like I had a place at church. Like I was part of the family at church.

                Looking back on my bitter summer so many years ago, that summer of quarantine, I realize my memories are no longer bitter. Oh, it was a painful and difficult time. Nevertheless, my memories are not bitter. I remember my mom, who chose not to chastise me for my bad behavior in grabbing that coffee pot. Instead she would hold me close and comfort me during those dreaded visits to the doctor. I remember Mr. Ramm, oh do I remember Mr. Ramm. The word sweet hardly does justice to the memories I have of Mr. Ramm. Maybe that is what is so sweet about something that is bittersweet. Because the bitter is present, because the struggle is so real, the pain so sharp, the sadness so overwhelming, just the simplest act of kindness can seem so sweet. A mother who holds your hand. A neighbor who makes a place for you at the pool. And somehow the bitter fades and the sweet lingers.

As we live through what is in so many ways a bitter time, I pray for God to open our eyes to see the blessings that are present in these bitter times. Two verses to hold onto when times are bitter. “Weeping may remain for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5 “You have turned my mourning into dancing.” Psalm 30:11

May the God who is able to bring joy and dancing out of our weeping and mourning fill our lives with sweet and tender moments that soften the bitterness of the Coronavirus Crisis and remind us that the love of God is always near.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne