A Time to Heal
1To everything there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven:
2a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to break down and a time to build
My daughter and I have spent a lovely two hours on the beach at Rehoboth, stowed the umbrella, chairs, and towels into the back of my SUV, and are now strolling along the boardwalk. Actually, she is strolling and I am limping. My flip-flops, perfect for the sand and surf, are not great at walking on wood and concrete. Quickly, I have developed a blister on my right foot.
"Let's get you new shoes!" announces Bonnie, so we slip into the air-conditioned quiet of the Kite Shop. Among the flags and Frisbees and beach toys we find a pair of slip-on sandals with some cushion to them. She insists I throw out the flattened flip-flops from last year. Or maybe they're from the year before.
"You need to buy yourself something new once in a while," she says as we continue our walk. I am aware that our time, as always, is limited. This has just been a quick overnight trip to visit my 91-year-old father. This evening we will drive home again where she and her husband will go look at some houses tomorrow, hopeful to move, and I will return to Allen and Ron. "You do everything for Dad and so much for Allen. You need to take care of you."
I shrug. "There is never time," I say. "Or money." I sigh. "Your dad requires a lot of both."
Despite the July heat, she takes my arm and snuggles up to me. "Someday there will be time," she says and I nod, fighting back tears. The older kids and I had realized a few months back that, despite our best efforts, countless surgeries, and nursing help, Ron was not getting better. We didn't talk about it, but the inevitable end was in sight.
I need to sit down for a moment. The blister on my foot is painful and the sand is rubbing into it. We choose a bench facing the ocean and let the salt breeze cool us. I shake my head. "I never thought--after the car accident--that your dad would be ill this long. I thought he'd get better." I gulp. "I don't know how long I can do it."
She puts her head against my shoulder and for long moments we sit there, facing the ocean, reluctant to move on. "You will do it," she says, "as long as you need to."
She was, I knew, right. God had provided me with whatever strength I needed in the last 19 years. God alone knew when the time would be right to call Ron home to Him. My part was to continue doing all I could and look to God to shore up my flagging energy. "Guess we should be heading back to Pop Pop's," I say after a few more precious moments. I limp back up the boardwalk, the blister on my foot becoming more aggravated, and we head back to my father's.
After dinner with Dad and Peg and a phone call home to Allen, who reports he went to WaWa to get Ron a soda and a pretzel, my daughter and I throw our overnight bags into the car and head on home. My foot is hurting so Bonnie drives and around Smyrna we stop at a Gas and Go for a first-aid kit of band-aids and Neosporin. Bonnie insists I buy two.
"Keep one in your purse," she says. "It might take a while for your foot to heal. Healing can take time."
If you've read my blogs, if you're my friend, or if you go to my church, you know how this day ended. You know that Bonnie and I arrived home around 9:15, walked into the house with a cheery, "We're home!" and found that God--infinitely wise and merciful--had chosen to call Ron to Himself. Phone calls were made, EMT's and police and friends arrived, Bonnie's husband and older brother and his girlfriend came. Allen, who lives on the edge of the autism spectrum, stayed quiet and withdrawn.
My foot still hurt. Throughout the week, the funeral, the burial, the luncheon, I limped, the blister gained on the boardwalk at Rehoboth a daily reminder of my more intense pain. I used the band-aids and the Neosporin Bonnie had insisted I buy. I threw myself into tidying up end-of-life issues, dispersing medical equipment, sorting out clothing, taking unused prescriptions to the pharmacy. I spent weeks helping Allen come to an acceptance of his father's loss.
Slowly, my foot improved. By the time I returned to teach English as a Second Language at an urban high school in September, it no longer bothered me. It had taken the time to heal.
But perhaps I hadn't given other things enough time to heal.
If you're reading this now, it's probably because for the first time in a loooonnnnngggg time, you're not overwhelmingly busy. According to an article in Forbes (Pontefract, 2018), Americans live in the age of "freneticism"--always busy, always on. This, says a survey from StressPulseSM (2017) leads to being stressed and stress decreases our satisfaction with life. And also interferes with our ability to be creative. Writer Kimberly Hines (2018) notes that the tendency of Americans to multi-task is not the great tool we think it is but leads to "shoddy work, mismanaged time, stress, and forgetfulness."
Back in January of 2020--pre COVID-19--the Center for American Progress reported that America was the most over-worked of developed nations with no maximum length of a work week, fewer paid sick days, no paid parental leave nationally, and only 13 days of paid vacation per year.
How times have changed. The corona-virus pandemic has brought all of us extremely busy bees to a grinding halt. And while many people are tragically dying, and healthcare workers are pushed to the limit, and a lot of people are out of work, and toilet paper is the new gold standard, I'm not sure there isn't something positive to be said for our mandated need to slow our roll. Maybe we all desperately needed a wake-up call to stop and smell the roses.
Ecclesiastes 3 shows us that God--not man--is the master of time. Not a single one of us can predict how long we have. Only God has that ability. It behooves us, then, to make the most of our time and that does not mean working 70 hour weeks. It means redeeming the time in healthy ways. It means taking care of each other and our planet. We all need to take the time to heal.
Writer Jonathan Watts (2020) reports that the changes to the environment without all of us humans messing around are clearly seen from space. Pollution belts are clearing, air quality is improving, and I haven't had an asthma attack in a solid month. Creativity is sprouting up as parents find ways to occupy their young children at home, teachers take on virtual instruction, and family dinners are again a seated at the table affair. At my house, board games rule the day. My daily walk through my small village show the ingenuous efforts of the kids on Maple Street who have chalked an exercise game on the sidewalk. Neighbors I do not know sit on their porches in the morning, cups of coffee in hand, and shout "hello" from a safe distance.
And, I'll be honest here, I needed some time to heal myself. While I gave my blistered foot the attention it needed, I was not so kind to my heart. I rushed headlong back into school and work and busy busy busy without allowing myself the proper time to take a breath, regroup, think about what I wanted the next chapter of my life to look like.
One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite apocalyptic movies is Morgan Freeman's final speech in Deep Impact. While recognizing the loss of life, the fictional President of the United States tells the world, "We honor them with every brick we lay, every field we sow, every child we comfort and then teach to rejoice in what we have been re-given: our planet, our home. So now, let us begin."
One day, the virus will have run its course. We will come out from our houses and pick up our plowshares and our portfolios. But I hope we will be the better for having had some time to heal. As we "begin again" I hope we will take to heart the words from Ecclesiastes 3, "To everything there is a time." Let's make this our time to heal.
This time, let's do it right.