I Will Never Let Go, Jack

As I drove down the road, I took a moment to look around me. Every detail looked the same, and yet everything had changed. Trees were still tall and roads were still roads. Birds still chirped and the wind still blew through the trees.

Maybe I just never took much time to stop and look.

It was the beginning of our pandemic experience. The new normal had begun to settle in. No matter your situation, we were all being told to “stay home.” It made things complicated, of course. Daily tasks we took for granted now became distant wishes–things like running to the grocery store for one or two items, taking your kids to the park, or attending church on Sunday. Our once busy and hectic schedules were temporarily halted, put on pause until further notice. As we all grappled with our new normal, some things remained the same, even though the world appeared to have changed.

Sunday mornings, I used to wake up early and attend the eight A.M. mass with my husband and sometimes the kids. Yes, I admit that some Sundays I wouldn’t bring my kids to church. Some Sundays, it was nice to sit, just my husband and I, and worship without digging for crayons or motioning for a child to kneel. While I’m sure some of church society won’t like that my children were absent, I care very little for the opinions of anyone other than my God. Nevertheless, the eight A.M. mass has become a favorite of mine. I attended this particular service every Sunday with my husband, and we may have been the youngest people in the congregation. The aged crowd of people was so peaceful and serene. After service, we were often approached by any number of people telling us how beautifully we worship or what a treasure it is to see the love my husband and I share. And yes, when we would bring all five kids to mass, we were told what a blessing it is for them to be there, how well-behaved and beautiful they all are.

I met so many people that I now have a checklist of hugs and waves every Sunday for my 8 A.M. crew! One person on that list in particular is Jack, an old man with wrinkled skin and arthritic hands. I know very little about him. I passed him every day at church, shook his hand after the Our Father, and wished him peace.

One Sunday after prayer, I heard a whisper say, You should hug him today. I knew exactly who the whisper meant. After the amen, I left my pew and walked two rows back. As Jack reached out his hand for a shake, I hugged him instead.

I’d been hugging Jack every Sunday since. We got acquainted, and it was a treat for my Sunday to hug my new friend. Some Sundays, he told me how beautiful my children are or what a gift my family is to watch. Other Sundays, he whispered to me that I am an “angel” or a “blessing.” It may seem very strange, but this encounter is one I looked forward to each week. His soul speaks to mine for some unexplained reason.

The Sunday before we were all told church would close, I stepped out of my pew to hug Jack. As I turned to walk two rows back, I paused….I just knew I couldn’t hug him that day. I knew it wasn’t safe for him or me. He stepped out, our eyes met, and he wrapped his arms around himself and I did the same. It wasn’t the same.

We showed our love from six feet away. While it wasn’t what I wanted, it was enough, I suppose.

I just knew I couldn’t hug him that day. I knew it wasn’t safe for him or me. He stepped out, our eyes met, and he wrapped his arms around himself and I did the same. It wasn’t the same.

I don’t know Jack. He attends mass with a woman named Debbie. They share a love for each other, but I’m not sure what type; it doesn’t matter. He dresses reverently each week. He doesn’t have envelopes, which tells me that even though he isn’t a technical “member” of the parish, he still throws cash in the basket every time it comes to him. He kneels at every allotted time, although you can tell it hurts his aging body. He cries when they sing “Amazing Grace,” as do I.

Last Sunday, I watched mass from my bedroom. I knelt and prayed. Catholic mass is very routine. There’s a rhythm to it. Sit, stand, kneel…repeat. While each mass is inherently the same, each week it changes and is different. After the Lord’s Prayer came the part where normally I would be anticipating Jack’s hug from two pews back. Anxiously awaiting a hug from a stranger. In its absence this past week, I cried. Elliot heard me and came in to find me, hands lifted in the air, tears streaming down my face. He hugged me because he knew; he hugs Jack too. I know that this all may sound so strange, but I miss Jack. I don’t even know his last name, but I feel great love for him.

In the monotony of our busy lives and hectic schedules, we go through the motions. Just like a Catholic mass, we sit, we stand, we kneel. We wake up, we get dressed, we go to work or take the kids to school or whatever we do. We arrive at our destination, only realizing upon arrival that we are even there at all. In our minds, we focus on the destination, not the journey. Now, it is easy to see all that was taken for granted. Each hug we begrudgingly gave is missed. Contact and human interaction are set aside while we protect our health.

Maybe the coronavirus has touched your life more deeply than it has mine. Perhaps you know someone who was ill or worse. Maybe you’re a doctor or nurse working on the front lines of this pandemic. Or maybe you’re like me, isolated at home with nothing but time to ponder those connections you took for granted. Those hugs from Jack that you desperately wish you could get back.

Reality Changing Observations:

1. What things have you taken for granted in the past that you now miss?

2. Have you been attending virtual church? What are your thoughts?

3. Given the opportunity, what is one thing you would do that you can’t do now because of the coronavirus?

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