March 15, 2020
Pamela Couture

3:00 am

In my imagination COVID-19 rises like a specter over our horizon: “self-distancing” is the watchword. Can we in Canada interrupt the “chain of transmission” of the virus and avoid repeating the headlines we’ve read about China, Iran, Italy, France, Spain, the United States? My daily routine is upended.

1.  I will not be waiting in the morning dark at the bus stop for the 6 am Burlington bus, clip-clip-clipping through Union Station with other commuters from the GO train to the TTC, deciding whether to climb the five flights of steps at Queen’s Park Station or take the elevator, or enjoying the lightening sky over the red stone of Queen’s Park as I walk briskly to Toronto School of Theology.

2.  I will not meet my colleagues face-to-face, absorbing their smiles, their anticipations, their tensions, their frowns, the slant of their bodies, their alert or resisting or bored response to my words. I will only hear their voices: our meetings have gone online.

3.  The coming Wednesday morning will be strangely vacant: I will not meet my students and be inspired by their embodiment: their winsome smiles, their energy, their eager, enthusiastic presence. Rather, I will read their work. My narrative therapy class has moved to Quercus.

4.  A few hours from now, I will not find my place in the fifth wooden pew on the pulpit side at St. Luke’s church, admire my husband in his clerical collar as he walks through the aisle and greets every person who has arrived before us, read the bulletin to remind myself of the weekly events, watch the billows of the gowns of altar servers as they prepare for worship, contemplate the rich crimson in the visual story of faith told by the stained glass windows, trace the black letters of the memorial plaques on the walls that remind me of my mortality, join with the congregation to sing the songs, hear the readings for the third Sunday in Lent, and decide whether to take eucharist in one kind or two.

5.  My apartment is strangely quiet without the familiar background sounds of the night. When I turn on the light in the living room, I do not hear the softly padding footfalls of our Sheltie Nicholas following me down the hall or the nighttime breathing of another human being in a far room. I am alone: twenty-four hours ago in the crisp night air, I helped my immune-system-compromised husband load the car with his suitcase and medicines and strap Nicholas into the passenger seat.  I gave them each a last hug as they left for our cabin. My husband will spend the next two months with a few neighbors rather than in an apartment building in an urban area that already has its first cases of COVID-19.

But what has stayed the same:  I am awakened by the brilliance of the moon. For most of my life I have marvelled at the moon lighting the water below or peeking behind the tips of trees--on camping trips, at the cabin, and when I am lucky, from windows of my own home. Tonight, in a cloudless sky, a large orb, half dark, half light, has risen over Lake Ontario. Its beams reflect on the soft ripples of surface water. This same moon lit the path of the Israelites as they made their way across Sinai in the Exodus. This miracle of our universe, slicing its sliver of light to earth, reminds me that manna will be present for us in our current wilderness. I will not hear that Scripture read in church this morning, but the moon reminds me. In “self-distancing” I will seek God’s solace and even renewal. In the midst of new forms of responsibilities with the university, colleagues or students that mark this strange time, I will seek to turn this home-bound exile into a form of spiritual retreat, even for a few hours of the day or night.

~ Pamela D. Couture, Director, Toronto School of Theology