Throughout this pandemic, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to check in with communities that are important to me via Zoom, GroupMe, phone calls, and so on. These check-ins typically begin with some variation of the question “How are you doing?” I guess, perhaps, that many conversations begin with this same question, but in these strange and uncertain days, this question feels different. Heavier. Because there’s the real possibility that folks will answer honestly. And there’s a good chance that honest answer will be that things are not fine.
As such, I feel like I’m entering into these conversations and watching the news bracing for impact. Preparing myself to be the recipient of more bad news. Certainly part of our job as humans is to help others carry the load. To share the burden. To make space for fear and anguish to dwell. I’m convinced that one of the most human and holy things we can do in these unsettling days is to walk alongside folks (be it virtually, from a safe 6+ ft. distance, or in other creative ways) in their suffering.
But I’m also convinced that holding out hope that, one day, things will not be like they are now, is another one of the most sacred tasks we can undertake. Not false hope or superficial hope. Not a naïve belief that one day things will return to normal, but an active effort which demonstrates that we will learn from this pandemic and come out on the other side a more kind and thoughtful people.
Holding out hope acknowledges the weight of the moment, but also declares that it won’t always be this heavy. Holding out hope resists the temptation that there are no more pages to turn, but instead, writes new ones. Holding out hope looks like taking graduation pictures despite that fact that you won’t walk across a stage on May 22, because the present moment doesn’t negate 4 years of hard work. Holding out hope looks like making face masks and calling senators and donating to organizations providing aid because there are needs which need meeting, and ways we can help. Holding out hope looks like checking in with a friend who’s been on our mind because offering a listening ear is sometimes the greatest gift we can give.
Today, the Christian tradition celebrates Palm Sunday – the day which marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his death and resurrection. It’s always felt a little bizarre to me to to celebrate when things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. However, it’s the hope that we haven’t come to the end of the story which allows Christians to cry “Hosanna,” anyway.
May you hold out defiant hope this day. And if you’re not at a place where you can do that, may you feel the loving embrace of those who can.
Julie Tonnesen is the Campus Minister for LEAF (Lutherans, Episcopalians, and friends), is the co-advisor for the Interfaith LLC, and works with Protestant Life at Elon. She is also a 2014 graduate of Elon, and earned her M.Div. from Duke Divinity School in May 2019. Julie is a candidate for ordination in the Lutheran church (ELCA). Julie loves supporting students, reading, and spending time outside with her dog, Gracie.