the numbers are footnotes…. couldn’t get the formatting to superscript
How are you holding up? Seriously. I truly hope you are yours are well as can be in these unpredictable days.
I’ve written several drafts of this Consider; each time I sit down my mood has been in a different place, making the words I jotted down a few days earlier no longer resonant. The pendulum swings. One day the sun is out, my kids’ online schooling is smooth, I’m staying abreast of work emails , I made time for a trail run  and a phone call with a friend. I put a wholesome meal on the table and think, “I’ve got this shelter-in-place thing down.”
Another day, the wheels come off: the kids are on each other’s last nerve, my work calls are interrupted with sibling fights over who gets to use which computer  for schoolwork, the pantry  is denuded with boredom grazing. I pour another cup of coffee , check the news again, and think, “How are we going to get through this?”
Sound familiar? I imagine I’m hardly the only one having sizable swings in my experience of these past weeks. I keep trying to remind myself I’ve never been in the midst of a global pandemic shuttering schools and businesses and under a stay-at-home order before, so of course I don’t know how to do it. It’s all a process of trial and error – and like the name says, there’s bound to be error (sometimes a lot). It’s okay, that’s how we learn.
Recently as I was cleaning out my desk , I came across a little envelope stuffed with index cards, fragments of church bulletins, paper torn from notebooks. On each little slip was scrawled a quote which I’d wanted to capture and save. Among these was the following from St. Augustine, “Thou must be emptied of that where with thou art full that thou mayest be filled with that where of thou art empty.”
Wow! What a time to come across these words suggesting there is something desirable about a profound shuffling of the things that fill our lives —for what are these days if not a time of deep, societal-wide reordering? The things “where with thou art full” have come to a screeching stop. The communal spaces – schools, restaurants, churches, downtown sidewalks – bustling just weeks ago, are empty. The calendar that ordered my family’s brimming life is gathering dust under my counter. The routine that kept us all hustling and shuttling feels like a distant and not-all-together pleasant memory. In many dramatic ways we are forcibly being emptied of that where with we are full.
The first half of Augustine’s memorable chiasmus seems obvious—we’re all living in the sudden cessation of the things that filled us. But it’s the second half, the reversal, that has been tugging on me. Of what are we empty that these tumultuous days provide us an opportunity to fill? Certainly Zoom calls and Google Classroom, cloth masks and hand sanitizer, grim statistics and worry, are all candidates for what fills us in this vacuum. But Augustine is, of course, speaking of an altogether different class of thing—not things at all, really. He’s intimating there’s much good available to us that the normal “fullness” of our daily lives precludes us from experiencing.
As for me, I’m not yet ready to say what emptiness in me the new patterns of this shelter-at-home life may fill. These days are too new, perhaps, to yet perceive the gold in them. But I’m grateful for the way these words of Augustine’s have framed these weeks of the pandemic, helping me to consider that emptying is not only loss but also invitation.
1 Grateful that I have work, when so many have lost jobs and financial stability.
2 Grateful that I live in a place with endless access to trails and mountains and lakes, when so many are sheltering in small apartments.
3 Grateful that we have access to technology that allows our kids to continue schoolwork, when so many do not have the funds to have any computers, much less several for the kids to fight over.
4 Grateful that we are able to purchase food, when so many depend on foodbanks and free and reduced lunch.
5 Wasn’t I cutting back on coffee before all this started?
6 Hiding from my children.