I AM PALMER
I am Palmer is a series of articles written by parishioners at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church about their experiences in the time of COVID-19. In this series, we are hearing from medical professionals, educators, students, public health experts, parents of school-age children and others who are finding ways to cope and thrive in our challenging times.
Most people at Palmer know me as "the rector's wife." (That's ok! I'm happy to be known as Neil's wife.) I am also the mom of two school-age kids, and I work full-time at Rice University across the street. In addition, I write for Mockingbird, and this summer, I added "baker against racism and homophobia" to my CV, baking loaves of sourdough and rye bread in exchange for donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center and The Montrose Center.
We've faced the usual family challenges in the pandemic, with the rapid shift to distance learning and working from home, strict limits on seeing others outside our home, and learning to wear a mask whenever we leave the rectory. The summertime is when my office usually gets to take a breath, clean out our file room, and attend federally-required trainings and workshops. Sometimes, in other years, we might even take a week of vacation. This summer, there was no time for a breath. We are digesting a new 2,300-page regulation from the U.S. Department of Education that mandates how we handle claims of sexual violence at the university. In addition, we have developed a new set of rules and agreements for students returning to campus, hoping to keep everyone as safe as possible. Meetings and webinars have dominated not just my days, but evenings and weekends, too, so that we can keep up with our regular workload and absorb these new, additional tasks. I'm beyond grateful for employment right now, both for the income and for the very engaging distraction from world events, and so I'm not complaining. Also, it's been a lot. This has not been the "slowing down," Sabbath-like time that some folks have experienced. I'm grateful to be able to do this work and to be safe at home. I am also deeply tired and often overwhelmed.
So, when my friend Dave called to ask me if he could give my name to a New York Times reporter who was writing a story about families and faith during the pandemic, I said yes, of course! But I also didn't know what I might add to the conversation. I'm not winning Church Mom of the Year over here. (Not that I ever was.) And yet, I was still excited to talk to her.
The night before I had the conversation with the reporter, I realized just how much I had to say about our faith life right now. You can read some of it in the published piece here. I spoke with the reporter for about an hour, and there is plenty that did not make it into the piece. She interviewed several families, and so of course one feature-length story couldn't have encapsulated all of our experiences.
In our conversation, I told her how grateful we are to worship among so many scientists at Palmer, not just from the Texas Medical Center, but in research communities and NASA as well. The scientific community at Palmer has been helpful not only for the medical insights they provide (which are tremendous), but also for the willingness to experiment and try new things. When something fails, we are grateful for scientists who see failure as a learning opportunity to pick up and try something new. We're especially grateful for those scientists in leadership positions, who help guide the way forward as we learn how to respond to the ever-changing guidance about gathering (or not).
I told the reporter about our Christmas Day conversation with Jo Lyday at our dining room table, where we talked about pandemic quarantines of the past. I told her that we valued an intergenerational community of faith to remind us that humanity has survived hard times in the past. I told her about how we're leaning on the faith of our forebearers to see us through this season in our lives.
I told her about Courtney Daniell-Knapp's heroic efforts at bringing our children's choir together, for Zoom bingo and music.
I told her about the virtual shower we threw for David and Colby, and how it gave us a reason to celebrate and be happy when we needed it the most. I told her about the incredible outpouring of love that Palmers have shown, and how we are all grateful to have something joyful to celebrate.
I told her about Palm Sunday as Palmer's "Feast Day," and how several Palmers dressed their doors in homemade palm creations. I told her about how we usually have a donkey to lead our procession, and she agreed that everybody loves a donkey. I told her about how we put donkey ears on one of our dogs as a nod to our at-home celebration of that feast. I told her that I didn't have it in me to have the kids record their experiences, on top of everything else that's being expected of them during these unparalleled times, and so I've created something of a liturgical time capsule so we can all remember someday.
I told her about Holy Week, when we burned rosemary at home instead of incense at church. I told her about Nancy Tucker and Johnna Kincaid bringing us seersucker masks for the Easter season, a generous and kind gesture acknowledging our love of Easter seersucker and our lack of sewing skills. I told her about many Palmers making masks for others.
I told her about the Easter Vigil, as mentioned in the piece, where we lit a fire in our fire pit in the front yard of the rectory. It's true that I described it as "weird, but not terrible." We attended my favorite service of the year virtually, when Neil read The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrystosom, his voice breaking with the beauty of those words.
I told her that, on the Monday following Easter Day, we had a cat show up on our front doorstep. The cat adopted us, and we have named her Feast, after the words we say at our liturgy, "Therefore, let us keep the Feast." Because we're continuing to keep the Feast from our homes, and because the kids and I had to lean on Neil to let us keep the cat.
I didn't have time to tell her that my book group, including several Palmer friends, has continued, and how we've been actively reading about anti-racism before this summer, and continue to read voraciously to broaden our outlook. I forgot to tell her about all the times we've had to practice forgiveness with ourselves and one another.
I told her all about the hard work that Neil and the entire Palmer staff are doing to make church happen, whatever that looks like from week-to-week, but there is no way that I could summarize the depth of their sermons, the creativity of the video that describes the procedures for returning to Palmer, and all of the behind-the-scenes that makes everything work every week. I couldn't possibly list all of the ways that Palmers have been sharing the love of Jesus to each other and the world.
I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to speak with the writer from the New York Times, and that she featured Palmer in her piece. But I'm mostly grateful for all of you, who continue to love and share the love of Jesus Christ, even in the middle of a pandemic.