It’s Not About the Mess; It’s How You Approach the Clean-up

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Written by Fr. David Cotter, Campus Chaplain at Anna Maria College

The plan for today was pretty simple and straightforward…coffee, this blog post, then a trip to a local supermarket, then grading the papers from the graduate course at Anna Maria that just finished last Thursday. Also, on the agenda between papers, was a departmental meeting with Campus Ministry. Finally, Mass at 6 p.m. A pretty ordinary day. You may well have guessed already that it has not gone as planned. In fact, I did not even make it to the coffee. Well, I did make it and was coming back upstairs with the mug in my hand to settle into the rest of the day’s work when, on the very last step, my shoe caught on something and down I went, undamaged but embarrassed and glad that no one had seen me. The coffee mug, lucky me, was also unscathed. But the coffee? That went flying everywhere you could imagine…on the walls, the rugs, the floor, the furniture. A very unexpected, unplanned and deeply undesired mess, that now had to be cleared up. And it was, in time and doubtless inexpertly, with the help of various cleaning items.

Not really a bad metaphor for 2020, at least so far. We have all found ourselves in a mess that none of us planned, wanted or expected. But, little by little we’re starting to clean it up, with the help of the tools we have available. Now, what I needed to clean up spilt coffee so that I could resume the tasks I’d planned is far different from what we need to do to clean up the mess left behind so far by the still-ongoing pandemic. We will wear masks because they keep us safer and for the same reason we will continue to sanitize and disinfect. Easy enough…after all, what’s a little cloth and hand washing compared to the immensely challenging work so many others are doing in venues ranging from hospitals to supermarkets.

That’s about where schools, colleges and universities find themselves now, starting to implement a clean-up of a sort that no one’s ever done before. One thing we can supply, those of us not tasked with figuring this all out, is patience: Why did someone put the sanitizer over there and not over here where it obviously should go! Why did I have to wait a few minutes to get the test, since I have other things to do today! And why did that person stand only five and a half feet away instead of the mandated six!

Patience for the fallibility of our hard-working and deeply committed fellow human beings. We are all trying. We are all stressed. Many, although they might not readily admit it even to themselves, are more than a little scared.

Paul speaks in Galatians 5:22 about the gifts of the Spirit. The New Revised Standard Version translates the sentence as “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness…” The word that is translated as “patience” here is makrothymia. It’s a bit tough to find a precise English equivalent and different translations offer a wide variety of alternatives but what’s really important here, and what will help us get through the next period of time, is the idea that all of these virtues work together as one. In other words, being loving makes life more joyful, and if you’re joyful it’s easier to put up with the inevitable difficulties of living in community, and if we’re committed to being patient then it’s a bit easier to be gentle with someone having a tough time because we’ll find we have a larger store of gentleness than we had thought and all of this will remind us of the presence of God in each other.

So, in the coming weeks as our community comes back together, let’s make a point of practicing patience with each other. 2020’s been a mess so far. Unplanned and unwanted, just like the mess my coffee made all over the place. And just like that mess, the pandemic mess and its aftermath will take some time and lots of effort to clean up. We can all contribute to that process by striving to practice Paul’s list of virtues, especially patience.

Community Message from President Retelle
Town Hall for Students and Families

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