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The Power Of Absence

September 27, 2020

We have been absent from each other, famously, these last two seasons.

But we have been closer to ourselves. Sometimes depressingly so.

In this sequestration suicides are up, divorces are up, and anger is blowing up in ways that challenge the Hell status of 1968.

We were, for a season, outlawed from going to many places, as disease would spread. Then we were allowed to do some things in some places for some of us. Numbers limited, spacing enforced. We were not alone, it was each of us completely changing our lives for the rest of us. We are allowed to do even more in this season, but the limits have succeeded in relieving fear in most people. But not all.

Worshipping together was among the worst offenders of our social liability. Right up there with movies, and probably more people in New England go to movies than religious services.

Where I attend, a church that seats 1,000, 50 can, now, come together.safely distanced. Masked. Hands disinfected. Walking up and down the right aisles.

The first gatherings in 4 months were once a month. No singing, no recitation, no Eucharist, just listening. I have never heard an organ as well as these mornings. It was good. 20 would come In these 2 months. Now, in the fall season, it is every week, and a few more come. We engage light common reading. Today a distant voice sang a hymn alone.

We wept.

But even together, we are alone. Three weeks ago, a stranger rode his bike to the front of the church, where I offer masks, gloves and disinfectant. He stopped, on the plaza in front of the front doors, bowed his head for 5 minutes. He looked up,  I waived, he nodded. And biked away.

Last week he rode up to the side, not before me, but alone, sat on the bike, and was silent, head bowed, for 10 minutes. He raised his head.  I said “Next week?” He nodded, and left on his brightly yellow bike.

This week, after others came up to the church’s front door and asked for a meal, a mask, the Rector, the biker showed up, 10 minutes into the service, and immediate said “Can I leave my bike here?”


He came up the steps, had a Security Guard uniform on. I asked “You want to bring the bike up into the lobby?” (I knew “Narthex” was nothing that meant anything to him.)


“No problem, I will watch it.”

He went in, leaving his lock on the bike frame. I watched his bike. He stayed for 15 minutes, before the service ended.

“See you next week.” I said.

“Thanks.” and rode off.

We are now over 30 folks being together each Sunday, in absence.

Riding the bike of sleep, every night, my daily insanely vivid dreams have transitioned from the night terrors that were with me every night for 60 years. Now, sagas of depth, imagery, even thoughtfulness are disturbing in their complexity, sound, story. Alone, in sleep, I connect to something. It is of me, but not me. I am on a bike of my making, sleep, but my mind is not planning, executing, doing, as I am now.

When life imposes absence upon us, we can curse it, violate it and attempt to force what was onto what is.

Or we can listen.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2020 1:24 pm

    Well stated, my friend.

    It is funny. My experience in recent months has been a little different than it has been for most. I was going through a horrible divorce for the first half of this year. I am very pleased that it is all behind me now, but it made that six-plus months, getting settled in my new home and sequestering myself and my two daughters, about as unpleasant as I have ever experienced in my entire life.

    I have however, found a new romantic interest in the recent past, and it has made a huge difference. We were very careful about Covid at first, but she and I have conscientiously and deliberately expanded our ‘family pods’ to include each other, and I am at this point happier than I have been for the last several years. The risks of getting sick (one of my daughters and I are high-risk for mortality from the infection) remain, but we are both well-informed and as careful as we can be about these matters. It has made the last few months for me a complete delight, and has greatly diminished the depressing aspects of the pandemic for me. Life is good, and honestly better, at least compared to the last few years of my life.

    I am unemployed due to the theater industry being shut down, and need to get that resolved soon, but I am staying busy with renovations of my new home, and the volunteer work that i do.

  2. September 27, 2020 2:28 pm

    It is a time of full imbalance: we are fully healthy, but vigilant: but in truth the corrosive impact of love transitions is, to me, more brutal than any sequester… Being on boards that literally rely on public performances the rug being pulled out is unmitigated in its damage: and whatever follows will be fully strange as well. Had a great talk with Tim Holcomb week before last: who is also well. Before we croak, lets get together up at Risley!

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