Keep your soul diligently

We’ve all seen those memes on Facebook and other places where the letters of each word are scrambled, but the first and last letters are kept unchanged. Sometimes these memes are accompanied by statements such as, “Only intelligent people are able to understand this message.” Actually, most adept readers are able to read them; as we learned to read, our brains developed shortcuts that recognize words even when the internal parts of the words have been changed.

But, by the same token, sometimes we mistake one word for another. The slip-up can be amusing, such as confusing “immorality” and “immortality.” Usually a second glance fixes the misreading. But this morning in my Bible reading, I faced a misreading that indicates just how overwhelming our current virus crisis has become.

I was reading Deuteronomy chapter four. I got to verse nine, which says, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your hearts all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” This is a trustworthy saying. But when my eyes first scanned the verse, my brain changed the beginning to, “Only take care, and keep your social distancing.”

Of course a second glance fixed the misreading. I suppose the words “take care” only added to the tendency to expect s…l d……..y to be “social distancing.” But my mildly amusing experience only shows how overwhelming this virus crisis has become, that I even expect the holy Word of God to command social distancing.

My experiences with the virus crisis are like those of most people. As an introvert, I don’t mind keeping my distance from other people. Three times a week I take a two-mile walk through the neighborhood. I do what I was taught as a child: I walk on the left-hand side of the road, facing the traffic. But now, with social distancing, if someone is coming toward me on the same side of the road, I cross to the other side to avoid that person. I’ve always wanted to do that. Now, not is it not rude to cross the road to avoid people—it’s recommended.

I’m very much blessed to have three jobs that all paid me my regular salary while I worked from home. Every week I write a sermon, and every Saturday I email it to the members of the congregation. Our church musician presents a concert of church music on Facebook every Sunday. We mail in our offerings, and my check comes in the mail. My history class was changed from classroom to online. Some students dropped out, and a couple have fallen behind on the work, but several are faithfully taking their quizzes (open book, since we don’t have the classroom discussion before the quiz) and—I expect—writing their essays that are due next week. But my full time job at the library raised the biggest concerns. How can a library function when the doors are locked and the workers are told to stay home?

The first week the library was closed, we were told that it was like snow days—we would stay home and be paid. The second week, they began encouraging us to do tasks at home that were somehow job related. Since I am an archivist, I began sorting and arranging the family pictures I brought from my father’s house several years ago. After they were arranged, I even started putting them on Facebook and tagging family members. I also explored the family genealogy. More than half the people who visit our research room in the library are doing genealogy—some in great depth, others just getting started. I’ve always been able to guide people to resources, but now I have much more experience in genealogical research and will be more helpful.

By the third week, we had a process of reporting how we were spending our time “on the clock.” But after that, the library decided that 75% of our hours had to be of direct benefit to the library system; the other 25% could be for learning and wellness activities. Some library branches began experimenting with curb-side services. Four branches are providing free meals to neighborhood children who usually get fed at school. My department remains locked up; but we are taking turns being in the building to answer the phone and help patrons.

Last week, with the phone-answering system in place, I was invited to return to my desk and continue processing archival materials. I must wear a mask everywhere in the building except at my desk; I must wash my hands frequently and wipe down surfaces often. This procedure might last for the rest of the summer.

Since it is losing some money—parking and meeting room fees, and overdue fines—the library director decided that he would reduce or eliminate some positions temporarily to save the library money. All positions will be restored when the crisis is over. People in eliminated positions retain their health insurance and other benefits but must apply for unemployment. Those who are reduced will—if the state government allows—work only part-time and receive unemployment money for the hours lost. I have been placed in the second category.

I do not feel comfortable with the likelihood that I will be receiving unemployment compensation for ten weeks or so. It’s not that I don’t need the money. It’s that every person thrown into the unemployment system is added to the financial burden that taxpayers like me and my children will be reimbursing for years to come. I disagree with the library’s decision to lower its costs by putting its workers temporarily into unemployment. In fact, I cannot help but view this as a cynical political ploy to deepen the crisis (and the feeling of crisis) at the expense of the current administration.

We will all get through this together. Stress and anxiety are high right now. (I spend little time on social media precisely because I rapidly tire of all the talk of virus and quarantine. It makes me shaky and queasy.) Meanwhile it’s important for each of us to take care, and keep our social distancing… I mean, keep our souls diligently. J.

Research/Trouble

Marion looked across the table at his wife and smiled. “I’m picking up some interesting skills, working at the library,” he said.

Marion and Julie didn’t often get to eat lunch together. Their busy schedules did not mesh well for shared meals. Breakfasts were eaten on the go, along with other morning preparations, including packing their lunches. Dinners were often separate because one of them had an evening meeting or the other had to drive the children to a dance class or a soccer game. Only on Saturdays and Sundays did they get to eat together, and Sundays the children were usually there as well. That made Saturday lunches special.

“Special skills?” Julie asked him.

Marion nodded. “So many people come in trying to research their family trees, I feel that I’m becoming a professional genealogist. They always ask for help, although some of them know more about family research than I do. In fact, a few of them have taught me a trick or two. It’s gotten to the point that I’m tracking down people in my spare time—living or dead, it doesn’t matter: I can find them.

“Yesterday, for example, I remembered a woman I knew back when I was in graduate school. I got to wondering how she is today. So I did some research. I found out that she got married about five years after our wedding. On the application for the wedding license, her husband wrote that he was a professional musician.”

Julie grinned at the phrase but said nothing. Marion went on, “So, I looked him up, and you’ll never guess what he plays—kettledrums! He’s with a symphony orchestra.”

“Here I pictured him in blue jeans and playing guitar in some rock band.”

“No, he wears a suit and a bow tie. He also teaches music at a college.

“The two of them have a son who’s in high school. He even made the national news. It seems that one day he stood up in the cafeteria and sang the national anthem. The school administrators gave him a detention for it.”

“That doesn’t seem fair.”

“No—a lot of people don’t think so. That’s why it made the national news. He wasn’t being disrespectful to the anthem, he sang it properly, as a show of patriotism.”

“The schools are getting so liberal these days. People support a football player for kneeling during the anthem, and then they punish a kid for singing it the right way.”

“It turns out that the next day, dozens of students got up during lunch and sang the anthem. They wanted to support him. But the school didn’t care. They started putting extra teachers on lunchroom duty to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

Julie shook her head. But instead of saying more about the high school student, she asked a different question. “Now, should I be nervous that you’re looking up old flames when you’re at work?”

“Old flames?” he queried.

“Someone upon whom you once had a big crush.”

Marion looked across the table at his wife and smiled. He decided not to mention the high school yearbook photographs he had also discovered online.

(There really have been cases of high school students being punished for singing the national anthem in the high school cafeteria. But the rest of this story is fiction. J.)