I’m a little scared right now.
My guess is that you are, too.
We are living in a time when our biggest fear has gone from will ________ get elected or re-elected as president, to will I get sick with a potentially fatal illness? Will I lose someone I love? Will my job hold out much longer? Will I lose my house? My car?
As a pastor, I want to be able to say the right words to offer comfort. And not just to encourage, but to fix the situation for people. To be able to offer wisdom so profound that it makes everything better.
But the best I can come up with feels trite and so ubiquitous:
- We are going to make it.
- You are not alone.
- The way you feel now is not permanent.
- I love you.
Don’t get me wrong, these are important things to say. But they feel far from enough.
In fact, nothing feels like it is enough–washing my hands, social distancing, virtual teaching, checking in with friends by text, even praying. As much as I continue to do these things, the more they feel like trying to take out a fire ant colony by using my thumb to squish one ant at a time on the concrete.
There’s a scene at the end of Toy Story 3 that sums up exactly how I feel right now. Woody and the gang find themselves on a mountainside of garbage sliding toward a huge furnace belching flames. As the leader, Woody attempts to swim up the slow-moving avalanche of trash to safety, urging the others to follow. But it’s clear he’s losing ground. The relentless churning of waste inches him closer and closer to the inferno.
As Woody stumbles and flounders, Jessie screams to Buzz Lightyear, “What do we do?” The space ranger surveys the situation, noticing the impossibly high wall to climb and the inevitable doom that waits below. His face relaxes, and he holds out his hand to Jessie, who nods and takes it.
The other toys follow suit, until the camera pans to Woody, who is still scrambling, unsuccessfully. Woody finally looks up and sees his old pal Buzz extend a hand with an expression that is clearly saying, “Woody, it’s over.” The cowboy’s face falls as well as he realizes that Buzz is right.
Woody then reaches out and grabs Buzz’s hand. All the toys face forward. And with the glow of the fire flickering on their faces, they close their eyes and wince, not knowing what else to do.
That’s how I feel.
The movie, of course, has a happy ending. After all, it’s Disney and Pixar and that’s what they sell.
But real life isn’t like the movies. For starters, happy endings aren’t guaranteed. Tragedies happen all the time. And it seems as if we are watching an epic one unfold before us at the moment.
And yet, perhaps Woody and the gang got it right when they realized that sometimes the best thing to do is to sit and be still. Then, with calm resignation, reach out a hand to the person who happens to be sitting next to you.
I’m speaking metaphorically, of course, especially given the fact that we are supposed to be practicing social distancing. But think about it. If all of us reach out a hand to the person next to us today, and then again tomorrow, and then again the next day, the power of 7 billion human beings daily reaching out to grab a neighbor’s hand in some tangible form has to add up to a powerful force that not even the coronavirus or the collapsing economy can stand up against.
And so that is what I am offering to you today.
Let’s sit and be still together for a moment.
What’s coming our way is very scary. It’s OK to be a little frightened. But I’m here.
Whatever happens next, we’ll face it together.
Photo credit: Walid Mahfoudh on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC