Counting Squares

            This is what my life has come to.

I find myself looking for squares on the floor. They tell me where to stand in line. As I wait my turn, I watch other people find their square. And together we wait, six feet apart, trying to smile with our eyes because our faces are concealed behind a mask.

            Driving across the countryside today I watched a single file line of cows space themselves at the feed bunk. Several were already munching away, but a few remained distant, seemingly waiting their turn. And the thought crossed my mind, do cows know to social distance too? Then I catch my thoughts.  Seriously? This is what my life has come to?

            I used to visit while I waited in line. In fact, I’ve had some amazing conversations with total strangers while we waited together.  I used to make eye contact and smile at those who didn’t want to visit. And I used to greet those I knew with a handshake or a high five. But now we stand apart and awkwardly try to connect from invisible squares on the sidewalk that keep us socially distanced.

            It’s hard to communicate through a mask. The covering muffles the words and mask our normal facial expressions that come naturally with conversation. I miss seeing the faces of those I know and love. I miss seeing the faces of those I don’t know well! There is more than six feet between us when we want to connect but feel the limitations. We are not designed to stay apart. By nature, we are designed to interact.

            I stood on a square today in an unfamiliar place to pay a cashier wearing a mask behind a counter. She was chipper and friendly and I admired her sunny disposition on such a dreary day. Half of the people standing in squares were wearing masks. The other half were not. But we were all waiting together in our own lines, all spaced six feet apart. I shared my square with my husband, but people looked at us funny. To me it’s obvious we’re together, but I supposed to others they might wonder why we are standing so close when the squares give instructions to stay apart.

            Back in the car we share the hand sanitizer and relax in our own space. Our world has changed. It is still changing. There are still so many unknowns. Yet one thing remains. The new normal is not going anywhere very quickly. This is what my life has come to.

            At home I read the news and say a prayer for the firefighters and families under threat of losing their lives out west. I visit with a friend who has visited family in Louisiana. The remnants of Hurricane Laura are fresh in their minds and the damage is devastating. I hear from a colleague who is still recovering from the effects of the Derecho Storm from a month ago. Nothing is easy. Everyone is struggling to survive in their own squares.

            The news reminds us of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A day to never be forgotten, even though there has been a recent surge of suggestions that history be removed from our school curriculums. What happens if we forget? That question haunts me as I prepare dinner. Historically speaking, there is much to be ashamed of in our world, in our country, in our lives—but to forget is to deny. I would rather remember the pain than have it erased from our timeline. Not to recall, to not be reminded is much like giving permission that life is random and unpredictable. I guess I’m not ready to live that life. I prefer to remember, to hurt, and to be reminded of lessons learned from history lest we repeat the same mistakes again.

            Closer to home the date is a blatant reminder of the one who is no longer with us. Life changed forever when one heart stopped beating. Every 11th another month passes. Six months today feels like yesterday. I remember and the pain is real. Yet the world continues to carry us forward whether we are ready or not. The absent one is present in spirit every single day, but our hearts are still broken. Grief is the price we pay for love, and I wouldn’t change the depth of the love. But as my day draws to a close, I realize I would do anything to go back and change the outcome.

            Amazingly, we humans are quite adaptable. We survive. We continue to wake up tomorrow and do it again. We laugh and we cry. We stay connected in whatever ways we are allowed and by whatever means is attainable. Our crops are parched by drout, yet the farmers will still pursue a harvest. And even though the rains have come, only the grass will show any signs of relief. Up north, the corn crop is gone, and the beans are stunted by the lack of rain. But the fields will still be cleared, and the land will be prepared for another season. By divine design we are resilient.

            Late in the day I found myself counting squares again. Without thinking I am conserving toilet paper—a fear instilled by the initial response to COVID-19 lockdown. Seriously! I am counting the squares on a roll of toilet paper. Interestingly enough, during lockdown we learned how to make a roll of toilet paper last longer than we knew was possible! But in recent weeks as supply has increased, I’ve not been as attentive to usage. However, tonight I realized if I fail to conserve today, tomorrow I will be standing on another square waiting to purchase a new package of toilet paper! The saving grace is the fact there is actually toilet paper on the shelves in the stores now!

            Tomorrow is a new day. I will wake up on the 12th and move forward into another month. Life changed. I will breathe in and out and count my blessings.  I will carry a mask in my purse and in my car for when it is needed and required. I will stand in the square and wait my turn. I will smile with my eyes and attempt limited conversation with strangers who are also waiting. And together we will all move forward.

            This too shall pass.

            A passage of scripture has been lurking around in my head all day. I looked it up when I got home today. Luke 19:38-40. Jesus is on his way into Jerusalem to face his death. People are praising him and welcoming him as he rides past on the colt of a donkey. But those who oppose him demand he get his “people” under control. They tell him to make the people stop! And Jesus replies, “If they stop, the rocks will still cry out.”

            Even in the midst of all of this—in the midst of death, in the midst of masks, in the midst of fires and hurricanes, derechos, and riots—even as the earth cries out in agony: for those who hope in the Lord, who hope in the “more” of this life and the life eternal—there is hope. If in the midst of all of this the rocks will still cry out in praise, then I choose hope over despair. I choose remembrance over denial. I choose love over grief.

This is what my life is coming to.


Published by Judith Kay Writes

Judith Kay has spent her life observing, listening, questioning, accepting, challenging, and wrestling with life’s toughest questions. Her writings reveal the answers, enmeshed in the tangled, sometimes messy analogies from everyday living. Judith Kay’s rural Iowa upbringing planted deep roots in core family values, a solid work ethic, and a humble spirit. These traits are personified in characters with deep convictions and heartfelt struggles. No stranger herself to disappointment, struggles, and grief, JK presents characters that wield their way into your heart, inviting you to seek your own answers along their journeys! Moving fluently between works of fiction and non-fiction, life-changing implications draw you into Judith Kay’s stories—sometimes challenging, other times affirming. Her quick wit and keen sense of authenticity keep you engaged. Her characters stay with you long after the story has ended. Her stories speak into your own life and resurface in your personal experiences.

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