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An Essay to Thank the Men and Women on the Front Lines
Sister Kathleen Atkinson, OSB
This is an essay I wrote about my experience this past year. It is not about me, but about the men and women who have tirelessly worked and are serving us still.
TO THE MEN AND WOMEN ON THE FRONT LINES.
If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. MLK
I still feel the paralyzing fear of that Tuesday morning. Searing into my memory the coffee house sounds of conversation and laughter, I clutched the phone. We needed to close at days end. COVID-19 had reached North Dakota and the Governor was shutting us down. Public buildings were closing their doors. Prisons, jails, treatment centers and shelters were “bringing their numbers down” for safety. Vulnerable people were being sent into the March blizzards as collateral for the safety of those of us who were locking ourselves in.
I closed Ministry on the Margins and watched the daily briefings and body counts. I wept in fear at this unknown, unseen enemy that was ravaging our community. I wept. I raged. I knew I had to take action but not what that action could be. After one week, I knew that I would only learn what to do by being where I needed to be - on the street, in the midst of our people in need. I didn’t know at the time how long the pandemic would be or how deeply I would be changed. I just knew I needed to act.
Social media filled with friends creatively working from home blended with the imposed time together while I knew a world of single mothers trying to teach their children after long days at minimum wage checkouts. I prayed with health care workers who lived in isolation to protect their loved ones; delivered cleaning supplies to fast food workers who became ill. I joined with public health leaders who were attacked for calling people to wear masks. My phone number was made available to law enforcement 24/7 and calls for help were frequent.
Church leaders became media personalities while we celebrated the Paschal Mystery from the comfort of soft chairs, coffee in hand. I attempted to join a monastic on-line group but felt increasingly alienated from conversations about living with less activity while I was trying to hold myself together in chaos. Even Scripture didn’t offer solace; I could only find Prophets who raged against God, Jesus who overturned temple tables, and families who turned against one another. Some days I cried when I left home and cried again when I returned; in between I portrayed strength and compassion as best I could.
One year later, I know I will never be the same. I tread cautiously on some conflicts with friends, family, and community members. I fear that my already tentative connections within institutional structures have unraveled and will not let me return comfortably. I am uncertain where I will find grounding in a post-pandemic “new normal” but I know I will continue to act on behalf of the poor. This is where I belong. This is where I meet others for whom there is no turning back.
Running. Walking. Crawling. We will keep moving forward.