Finding the Ordinary in the Loss of Normal

May 25 / Kathi Gatlin
Stating we are in an unprecedented time is an understatement. How do we faithfully walk through a time like this? Do we visit stores and restaurants offering take-out to support local businesses? Do we wear face masks and visit people online instead of in-person? COVID-19 is changing the way we live life, and we have no way to know when it will get back to normal. Really, what is normal?

Instead of doing things the normal way, living our life as we always have is changing. As we adapt, doing the ordinary things in our life - relationships, going to the grocery store, working, education - takes more time to consider how to do them. It slows us down. We can not live on autopilot. We do less.

We are globally experiencing a disorienting time where life is radically different from what we have known. Some call it a liminal space, where things are different, and we do not know when we will get to the other side of this experience. I attended the Gathering Time with Dr. MaryKate Morse through the Companioning Center a few weeks back. She shared an image of a bridge to illustrate the journey we are all undertaking. We have left what was known, and we do not know how long it will take to get to the other side nor what it will look like when we get there.

She offered an opportunity to lament over what we have lost and to embrace the transitional journey of navigating the bridge. It is in this place of transitional disorientation where transformation happens. It is uncomfortable, we want to escape the uneven ground we feel underneath our feet. We do not like suffering nor seeing those we love suffer. This does not feel normal.

For me, I sense the unsettled energy in the air. I am less patient and less focused than usual. Part is the family concerns I am holding, and the other is the conversations I am hosting. When we listen to others in their disorientation, often our own struggle resonates with theirs. We are all in this together, even as we experience it differently.

How do we embrace the journey that feels so disorienting? The invitation given in the Gathering Time was to lament - what have I lost? I miss hugging my daughters and my grandchildren. I am concerned for one son-in-law who is immune-compromised and the other who is on the front lines as a paramedic. I admire my daughters in mothering during this time because I know the weight of being with children 24/7. I cannot imagine homeschooling them too. I miss not being in physical connection with people even at the same moment being thankful I live in a community. My college classes have gone online, so I will not be able to host in-person courses this summer. A gift I genuinely enjoy that I will not be able to receive.

I do not need to negate these unsettling emotions of sadness - as I recognize them, name them, and share them with others; the sorrow and grief transform. It transforms into something not as big or overpowering, and it transforms me as I hold them. The sadness and grief honor the relationships connected with each of these instances. These hard feelings are not something to escape or negate instead they are an invitation to feel, to go below the suffering.

These are hard realities to hold. If I push the hard emotions away, I also push or numb out the positive ones. As I hold both, I am thankful for living in community and how my family is holding up in this current situation. I can lament the suffering I see around me. Together both the positive and negative emotions are beautiful and create beauty. To listen in these places reminds me to recognize the gift of the ordinary.

From a place of holding both the positive and negative emotions, I can host my own self with compassion. Listening to my desires and needs that I am experiencing so I can notice and meet those needs. What I recognize is my need to connect so I can do so differently than before. I also discover that too many hours meeting with people virtually is tiring - so the invitation is to allow more space in-between and to find different ways of meeting.

The invitation, at least for me, is to be present in my experience while listening to my own process through the experience. When I listen to my inner self, then I can have compassion for myself and for others, this is really living in community through isolation. Community is defined: me and myself, me and God, and me and those either physically around me or who are virtually present. Living intentionally in community allows me to be in the ordinary even though it is not very normal.

I wonder how you find the ordinary in the loss of the normal. Recently, we brought a new puppy into our household, and his invitation to me is to always play before work. I find he helps me to remember to pause and just be present. May you also find a grounding space in the ordinary way of living that may be ordinary, even if it does not feel normal.

Kathi Gatlin
Kathi Gatlin co-founded the Companioning Center and founded Boldly Loved to bring together her two greatest passions: spiritual formation and teaching. Walking alongside others in their spiritual journey, whether individually or in groups, brings her immense joy. She loves sharing the contemplative life and exploring ways of understanding God with others. Ultimately, seeing companions grow deeper in their own understanding of who God is and who they are in relationship with God is her faithfulness.

Kathi is a trained spiritual director, supervisor, writer, spiritual formation group facilitator, retreat speaker, leadership mentor, and adjunct professor with George Fox University and Portland Seminary.

Kathi has two grown daughters and five delightful grandchildren. She enjoys coffee, chocolate, deep conversations, reading the mystics, and walking in trees with her Covid puppy, Oliver.