Rev. Sara Goodman is an Associate Minister at White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. Rev. Sara finds the presence of the most Holy where people gather in community for celebration witnessing, and support. What follows is an excerpt of one of her sermons on the importance of an interdependent web of community, especially in these times. Welcome, Rev. Sara! Please enjoy her contribution to this week’s Reflections.
Some of my earliest memories are of presence, of place. My very first memory is of the inside of the YWCA swimming pool – all classic brickwork and echoes.
Some of my earliest memories are of the sounds of a place that was mine: listening to new age music from my fort under the massage table in my dad’s office, the thhwang the wires holding it together made when I plucked them like guitar strings. And in retrospect, not the most relaxing sound while my dad gave massages to clients.
A memory of a place that was mine: Listening to the waves crash at the beach for hours, running my fingers through the warm sand; and then suddenly the waves were TOO LOUD and it wouldn’t feel like mine anymore. Hearing my mom cry in another room in our house, going to her, hugging her as she wept.
I listened a lot. When I was a kid, growing up an only child with divorced parents, I spent a lot of time with adults and a lot of time alone. I got very familiar with doing my own thing while the adults around me were talking or working. Folks now call it parallel play. Two people in the same space, doing their own thing, but together. I got really good at it, and still enjoy it to this day.
I would sit, lonely, in my dorm room sometimes – until my friend down the hall would invite me to her room to do our homework together. She would be painting and I would be reading. We just enjoyed being in each other’s presence.
One of the things I learned over my early life, is that presence – the physical or emotional presence of someone I trust makes all the difference to my wellbeing. If I could hear the sound of my mom’s voice on the phone, I’d be OK. If I could sit and watch a movie with my friends, or write our sermons in a coffee shop with a classmate, or watch our children play from the same bench at the playground. I would be OK.
Let me just say, this pandemic is so lonely. I am so fortunate to have my best friend, my co-parent: my husband by my side through this time. We support and care for each other every day. But I am acutely aware of the isolation and loss so many people are experiencing. The presence of others is so important to our wellbeing. Loving physical touch is vital to human wellbeing. And too many of us are not able to get those needs met.
We need to be reminded of our interconnectedness, our inter-dependence within the web of existence.
We are a community, a community of care and compassion. We are connected, interconnected, and sometimes all we need to remember that is presence. The presence of another’s face on a screen. The presence of another’s voice on the phone line. The presence of letters arriving in mailboxes. We can and must be present to each other, this year more than ever before.
We are, some of us, struggling. Some of us struggling with loneliness, some of us struggling with working while parenting and educating our children, some of us are struggling in relationships that aren’t built to be in such close quarters for so long. Some of us are struggling with job loss, some with too much to handle. Some of us, many of us, are struggling with the election, and what the outcome could mean for our country.
Some of us are struggling with the death of loved ones, the ending of relationships. With grief that is so heavy on our hearts, like swallowing the weight of a teaspoon of neutron star on earth, as Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer wrote in her poem:
Watching My Friend Pretend Her Heart Isn’t Breaking
On Earth, just a teaspoon of neutron starwould weigh six billion tons. Six billion tonsequals the collective weight of every animalon earth. Including the insects. Times three.Six billion tons sounds impossibleuntil I consider how it is to swallow grief—just a teaspoon and one might as well have consumeda neutron star. How dense it is,how it carries inside it the memory of collapse.How difficult it is to move then.How impossible to believe that anythingcould lift that weight.There are many reasons to treat each otherwith great tenderness. One isthe sheer miracle that we are here togetheron a planet surrounded by dying stars.One is that we cannot see whatanyone else has swallowed.
In times of distress and struggle, it is easy to get caught up in the stress and strain of our lives. It is easy to drive too fast, or react too angrily when met with a new struggle. It is easy to break down crying in the middle of the grocery store. It is easy to think that we are alone.
We need to treat each other with great tenderness. We don’t know what anyone else has swallowed.
We are a people who need one another’s presence. We are a people who need to be held when grief overwhelms us. We are a people who need to sit by someone’s bedside as they’re dying, who need to gather in grief and joy, we are a people who need to be together. And when we can’t be physically together, we need to find other ways.
In my training for pastoral care, I have again and again learned the lesson that presence makes all the difference. Presence in this case means deep listening, deep caring, deeply seeing the other person. Treating them as whole and holy. This presence is just as important on the phone or over zoom as it is being in person. Bringing someone a book of poetry they love, or singing some of their favorite songs with them can be some of the more meaningful experiences with someone who is suffering.
I know that many of you are from a culture where you are told to suck it up and do the thing yourself. But now more than ever we have to examine that belief. Now more than ever we need to be able to reach out to someone and ask for help.