Last week we were gifted warmer days and our first vaccine.
The suddenness and utter unpredictability of a chance at the vaccine seemed cloaked in all the mystery, chaos, and illogic of things viral: A friend saw the notice on Facebook that a neighboring community’s senior center and community health department were offering the first vaccines for a two-day time period and appointment slots were, of course, filling rapidly. I signed up and received a late slot on the second day.
Our own local healthcare concern, that has benefitted from our money and insurance for decades, never got back to me regarding the registration I’d completed at their invitation. I’d felt increasingly frustrated as my neighbors all posted happy news of their shots being scheduled and received, but I couldn’t locate the correct bureaucratic pathway to learn why I wasn’t being contacted. I could only guess that the fact I’m just 65 might have pushed me down the list while older people received their shots first. Who knows? Maybe all my data crashed because of the apostrophe in my surname, which still seems to confound computer programs everywhere.
At any rate, I was given this chance, seized it, and was blessed with an appointment. Then, I waited an anxious week wondering if the vaccine supplies would be depleted and my appointment canceled.
Not the way healthcare should work, I think.
Late in the day on the given date, Phillip and I drove to the site, about 30 minutes away. Because he’s not yet 65, he was ineligible, but I’d read that, since the thawed Moderna doses are only viable for a brief window of time before requiring disposal, it’s possible to get your name on a shortlist regardless of your eligibility, and you may receive a vaccine that would otherwise be wasted. I joined and followed the line of people as we were directed and, as soon as I reached the first indoor station, asked that Phillip’s name and data be placed on the list. I was told there were no extra vaccines allocated, but that could change.
The entire ritual, for that’s what it became for me, was professionally and kindly orchestrated. Everyone participating was masked, hushed, cooperative, and somewhat stunned. Something miraculous and historic was occurring, and our little lives were communally, even sacredly, involved. After the shot, we had to sit in mathematically-spaced folding chairs, waiting through 15 minutes of observation. Friends chatted across prescribed distances, others of us sat in silent reflection, pilgrims not quite believing we’d reached a sacred destination. We were scheduled for our second shot, and then it seemed more than a few of us left the building, tears of relief spilling over masks.
I returned to the car, noticing the air’s perfume had turned from winter to almost-spring and the longer daylight was only now ebbing into a sunset of blended pinks, rose, and amethyst. A gentle hint of joy rested in my heart. Words left me. Feelings and thoughts that had fled over the past year, that I’d missed, stood at my heart’s door like long-traveled beloveds, hope and all her children, returning home.
Then, Phillip told me that as I waited at one end of the building, he’d been called in for an unclaimed vaccine, filled out his forms, and joined the procession, only to witness a woman rush in, frantic and pleading. She’d filled out all the forms and registered online, but had forgotten a crucial step and was not scheduled…so Phillip, witnessing her suffering with his characteristic kindness, gave her his place and returned to the car. We were happy for me and sad for him, and in that emotional tug, headed home.
Zipping along the highway, halfway home, we were startled by Phillip’s phone beeping…another vaccine was available; could we make it back? We were so excited; I remember the car turning around, but it now seems almost fantastical how quickly we were parking it once again. The nurse at the door beamed at him, “You’re back! Come in!”
And 30 minutes later, once more returning home, but now in the dark, our joy was tangible; we’d won the lottery. I think we both cried at that point.
The next morning, despite our aching arms, it seemed fitting to celebrate with a hike at a nearby county park. Still cold, still winter, but we noticed the angle of light had changed, as had the birdsong surrounding us.
Nature mirrored our renewed hope. It was time to emerge from darkness once again, cautiously, tentatively, but in the direction of the light calling us by name, as it always does.
Nothing has changed; everything has shifted.
Today is known as Imbolc, the celebration of Brigid, the Celtic goddess of healing, home, poetry, fertility, and fire. She was later woven into Christian spirituality as St. Bridget, and today is her Feast Day. February 1 falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
The energy of the year quickens, as the original word, Imbolg (in the belly), signals: our spirits are noticeably pregnant with the dreams that rose during our winter sleep. Now, they’re growing into conscious yearning for birth, into actions that will make them “real” in the world.
The ancient Celtic wheel of the year honors not just the obvious quarterly turns of the sun and seasons, but the finer midpoints, or cross-quarter signals that change is constant; even in a year that turns predictably around the sun, back to where we’ve been, everything is new again, an ever-changing, yet prescribed, cotillion. The known and always-improvised dance to the music of Mystery, and held in Love’s ballroom.
For me, Christian spirituality enlarges these themes by symbolically connecting our choices and actions to the growing light. Lent, which means spring, imposes a time of pause and focused contemplation so we may meet spring’s high light (Easter) with renewed centeredness in our gifts and the ways they match the invitations of the world for the healing and connectedness of all.
Other theologies and worldviews offer similar stories of renewal and refocusing as the new year cracks through its egg and emerges into possibility and choice. The human story, no matter the veneer of its retelling, is always drawn to the turning from death and darkness to rebirth and light.
And yet the recircling darkness of winter solitude and its resulting opportunity to contemplate our choices and the waves they’ve set in motion is a deeply necessary aspect of our humanity. What do our gifts compel us to offer the world? What do we owe the Earth and each other? What have we learned from the year that is passing? Who are we becoming? What are we creating in the studio of our life and spirit?
We need winter: our health and balance require time to meet our shadows, listen to them and slowly feed them light. We need the apophatic, negative space for clarity and depth. These encounters need not be cruel, frightening, or shameful, but pain may be an inescapable part of self-encounter as it is inescapable in all relationships. Yet, I believe these meetings, our winters, should always be guided by the understanding that the better we are able to offer love and forgiveness to ourselves, the more profoundly we may offer healing to others. It is a time of spiritual seed-planting.
And now, some of those seeds are fertile and quickening.
Spring is not a rejection of winter, but an outgrowing, in gratitude for its lessons. Then the days grow longer, and our actions more assured and in better congruence with our new understanding of who we are now and why we’re here. If we choose.
Gently, gently, but no Easters without Lent.
And we come to know that every day, perhaps every moment, has its winter and spring, and perhaps its Lenten second of choosing sacrifice over gratification to better meet the next moment in Love…I mean, when I witnessed the caring staff tending all of us through the line to our shots and recovery, I felt transformed by their kindness, as though they’d led us from our long winter to a field of light. And when Phillip acted in love and selflessness to surrender his vaccine to another, I wonder if the weary staff noticed and were moved, even transformed? When yet another shot became available, did they remember the man who sacrificed his precious vaccine to ease that woman’s heart?
So, welcome to all signs that herald more light, green life, birdsong, gardens ready for planting what will nourish, and invitations to our co-creation in what we know is good and true. May we embrace the lift in our spirits and midwife our winter lessons into action fueled by love, using the gifts we’ve come to share.
And when we do, we’ll see Love hold her door open, beaming, “You’re back! Come in!”
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