On Saturday, I arrived at my church’s new campus for our serve day. We’re moving in this month, and as with any move, we have a lot to do to prepare. Before we began tackling our to-do list for our serve day, our pastor stood on the steps in front of us welcoming those who gathered around him and doling out assignments to various groups. Reading a list of names from his phone, he directed some to the flower bed project outside the sanctuary doors. My name wasn’t in that group, but I let my eyes wander over to their assignment, surveying the work area and thinking how dismal it looked. Like most flower beds in mid-March, still recovering from the tough winter behind them. I heard the instructions to the team as I looked at the tiny, bright green weeds poking their leaves through the dull, gravelly bed:
“We’ll be putting down the topsoil so we can plant when we’re ready.”
I don’t know much about gardening or planting, but when the decade turned a few months back, I discovered a creeping desire in my mind – I wanted to grow something. To put something new and small and fresh into a pot of soil, care for it, watch it grow. Because I know next to nothing about the process, I went to a nursery near my house last weekend, found a friend who works there, and followed her around, asking an annoying number of questions.
Can I put these things in the same pot? Can I grow these well with the amount of sunlight I get in my backyard? What kind of care do these need? Do you think I can do that? Every question revealed how far I was in over my head.
I don’t know the science behind the topsoil, how it reacts with the flower bed beneath, what nutrients connect with the roots that invade to make them grow. But I now know that you put it down first “so we can plant when we’re ready.”
I avoided the headlines for as long as I could. I put distance between myself and the mass panic I felt was growing out of control like the virus they were all talking about. I knew fear would find me if I gave it any idea about where I was hiding. So I stayed away. My news came from murmurings from coworkers far more informed than I was, funny memes I scrolled past on social media, emails from our corporate office. Fringe news. News I could forget about quickly, compartmentalize, rationalize, minimize.
But the real thing found me eventually. Tours were cancelled. Travel was no longer an option. Other offices were closed. Our office was closed. For two weeks at a minimum, we’d work from home. Pictures of empty grocery aisles were on everyone’s feed. Like sunsets in spring, everyone had to snatch their version and share their own view alongside a witty caption. I thought of my barren refrigerator and what would I do if they were out of the thing I needed, and was I prepared for a National Emergency? The answer was a decided no. So I went to two grocery stores and bought all the things I thought would fit on my pantry and refrigerator shelves. Then I drove an hour south on the Natchez Trace, compass pointed toward home and family and freedom from the weird life developing around me. I turned around when I realized the fear was already ahead of me waiting to greet me at the door.
But all week, underneath the growing worry that things were going to get much worse before they would find their way to getting better again, was a quiet whisper steadily repeating the refrain “what if…”
What if this forces some rest to our hurried world? What if creativity blooms in confinement? What if grace grows in defiance of the anxiety that chases all of us? What if this is all topsoil preparing the way for us to plant new growth? When we’re ready.
As fast as I’ve tried to run from the reality of this virus and all its socio and economic repercussions, it has found its way into my line of vision. I’m staring down the barrel of this two weeks, knowing that it’ll be a long time before any of us will be ready to plant. But I have this sense, this belief, that this will be topsoil. This interrupted life we’re all living, this new view from home with nowhere to go, this forced stillness will be a covering for us – reviving old soil to prepare it for something new to grow.