Ordinary Life Goes On

Dr. Kelly McFall
Professor of History
Chair of the Division of Humanities

My friend Gale passed away last week. 

My favorite memory of Gale is of a moment in church a couple years ago. I’m active in my church and often lead parts of the service.  That Sunday I was leading the prayers of the people.  I’d gone through the prayers we already knew about and was now taking prayer requests from the congregation.  Gale raised his hand and shared that that day marked (what I heard as) 50 years in remission.  I repeated this as a joy—only to be interrupted by our pastor, who gently pointed out that I had misheard.  It was 5 years, not 50. 

I’ve been leading from the front of the room for many years and have become quick on my feet.  So I simply reminded the congregation that somewhere in the universe there was a planet on which Gale had been in remission for 50 years (ask Prof. Huschka if you’re confused).  We laughed together as we gave thanks to God for Gale and his presence.

To be truthful, Gale was both less and more than a friend.  I saw him each Sunday his health allowed.  Before the service he and I invariably shared a handshake and a smile.  Still, I never saw him at Sunday afternoon regattas or Friday night softball tournaments or early morning workouts.  We never debated whether Buffy was a franchise.  We never shared tips about our new favorite bands (mine are Phantastic Ferniture and This Wild Life, if you care).  He was a church friend, not an everyday friend.  News of his death left me saddened, not devastated. 

But at the same time, he was much more than a friend. Gale was a brother in Christ, a gift of God to me, to our community and to our church.  His life brought light and his death left a hole.

Why do I tell this story now?  Because, even in the midst of a pandemic, ordinary life goes on.  Gale didn’t die of Covid-19.  Instead, his body gave up after years of struggle.  His family and friends mourn him in the midst of this much broader sadness.

Perhaps, for you, that ordinary life is hard.  Maybe someone is ill (I saw a Facebook post this afternoon from a former student of mine mourning the death of one of her own students.  She teaches at Northwest.  Given where Newman students live, my guess is at least some of you knew her).  Maybe  your spouse or sibling or parent lost a job.  Maybe you’re having a hard time paying rent.

Or perhaps your life is more prosaic.  You miss your friends or partner.  You’ve moved back home and are trying to figure out how to live with your parents and siblings again. You can’t seem to get enough bandwidth to watch Hulu. 

Or maybe, in the midst of this great crisis, you’re actually celebrating a birthday or an anniversary or a success story, overflowing with joy and feeling a little guilty that you’re happy when everyone else is frightened.

 My point is not to minimize the pandemic.  We’re living through something truly remarkable.  We should all be mindful of our actions and our attitudes.   As I told some of you years ago, in the midst of times like these, we are all called to be someone’s hope.

But we are also called to live.   Exams still matter.  Graduation and summer plans and Netflix parties still matter.  Friends and relatives and pets still need you.

So, in these weird, wild times, give yourself permission to care about ordinary things.  Allow yourself to be anxious, or sad, or excited, or exultant.  Share that joy or fear or boredom with a friend, or even a church friend.  Make it through your classes (whether you’re taking them or teaching them).  And, when we can all be together again, remember to tell me that thing that made you laugh.

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