In the early days of the lockdown, I remember noticing how quiet the world had become. Less traffic when I drove, less traffic noise on the streets outside my home, fewer sounds of people going by on the sidewalks because everyone separated as they drew near. Across the globe, news reports and photos depicted a world “shuttered,” “grown silent,” “stopped in its tracks.” It seemed as though the perennial longing to be less busy had suddenly, harshly, been granted—though only to some, while others like health care workers found themselves busier than ever, busy without any rest in sight.
Spiritual traditions of all kinds have repeatedly told us that we are most likely to be able to sense God’s presence, to hear the still small voice within us, if we are willing to be still and be quiet. We heard this, we nodded, we undertook the challenge to meditate for a few minutes, and deemed our response good enough.
But maybe our judgment was too generous, so that we could not, would not, be still until we woke up one morning and had no alternative except—being still. Finally being still, truly still, we could begin to discover deeper currents in ourselves and in our world. My stillness brought me a heightened awareness of those who did not have the option of stillness, those who were working harder than ever to fill in the gaps created by the stillness of people like me, making deliveries, caring for the mounting numbers of coronavirus cases. In my stillness, I saw inequities that I overlooked when I was racing about as usual.
So if one meaning of the pandemic will ultimately prove to be a call to repentance, to change directions from a wrong-headed way of life to a more thoughtful and compassionate way of life, then with the present return of busyness with more vaccinated and more “normal” routines being resumed, how will I keep the awareness of inequities that the months of enforced stillness allowed me to see? Because if we simply go back to “normalcy” that included underpaid and overworked marginalized people, then no repentance has happened and the stillness changed nothing. I had to sit still in order to see all that was going on around me. Now I need to do more than just see it, need to actually step out, step in, and use that awareness to live my repentance and effect some change.