Time For Transition
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
It was the scariest drive I've ever been on. No, it was not the six hour journey from Nairobi to Kitale, Kenya, as the driver of our overstuffed mini-bus weaved in and out of traffic like he was a New York cab driver. And no, riding in the back of the New York taxi through Manhattan like we were in a chase scene from the Italian Job was not the scariest ride I have ever been on. And even though I thought we were going to die, showing up at an airport in Izmir, Turkey in the middle of the night, getting picked up by a couple of unknown locals who drove us three hours into the darkness on dirt roads was still not the scariest drive I've ever been on.
It was June, 1997. My brother had graduated from Diamond Bar High School (home of the Brahmas) that night. He walked, we partied, packed, and hit the road that same night. The following morning we would be starting our summer jobs as camp counselors in the local mountains.
It was raining. It was night. There was fog. A lot of fog.
It was the kind of fog where you couldn't see five feet in front of the car, and the fog lights were not doing the very thing they were invented to do. Going up the mountain road did not improve conditions. Five minutes in we were being confronted with a decision: Do we turn around and go back home to wait out the weather, or do we forge ahead? Our impulsive, adrenaline-inspired man instincts kicked in (which isn't always a good thing), and we set out on the road only fools traveled. With the window down (remember it was raining), my brother and his head out the window, we navigated every turn in the road at a crawl.
Looking back I still don't know how we actually made it through that night, but we did.
I have a sense that right now our world is going through the fog.
It might be the fog of fear and the reality of people who are dying from not only this virus, but every sickness.
It might be the fog of depression, where your life before all of this craziness was hard enough, and this certainly isn't helping.
It might be the fog of the news machine, twisting and turning the narrative in so many different directions it is hard to know the good guys from the bad, the truth from deception.
It might be the fog of scarcity, not knowing if we will have what we need for rent, or retirement.
And still, my hunch is we will make it through, and looking back we might not know how we did it. Welcome to transition. You and I, and the rest of our world, is in transition. We are in the fog and will enter a new normal, a normal that we cannot yet see. If you are like me, it feels like a normal I don't really want to experience.
When it is all said and done, this quarantine will have lasted for most people about 40 days. The Latin root of "quarantine" is "forty". It came from the bubonic plague from the 14th century. In fact, from 1347-1350, one-third of the population of Europe was wiped out. Did you hear that?!? One-third of the population of Europe! There were laws that any ship coming from plague-affected areas would have to isolate for a period of 30 days, known as "trentino." Over the years, those 30 days became 40.
Think Starbucks for a moment. They have successfully programmed us to not order small, medium and large coffees. I always feel bad going to Coffee Bean and saying, "I'll take a grande cup of coffee." They look at me like a traitor. Starbucks has given us the language of tall, grande, venti, and trenta (and short, but who does that?). My nine-year-old is always pushing to get the venti instead of the grande. Venti means 20. Trenta means 30. I propose that if Starbucks ever came out with its next size up, they should call it the "Quarantino." Even though the Italian is literally, "Quaranta," I prefer the Latin. "I'll take a quarantino half caramel, half vanilla latte, decaf espresso heated only to 100° with nonfat milk and caramel drizzle on top." Ridiculous.
The number 40 is incredibly significant in the Biblical narrative. It always symbolized transition, change, and testing. The stories surrounding 40 have change written all over them.
It rained and poured on the earth as the flood lasted 40 days (Genesis 7:12).
Noah waited for forty days after the flood, before releasing a raven (Genesis 8:5-7).
Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness 40 years (Joshua 5:6).
Moses camped on Mount Sinai 40 days for the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:27-28).
Moses sent spies into the Promised Land for 40 days and nights to check things out (Numbers 13:25).
King Saul reigned over Israel for forty years (Acts 13:21), as did King David (2 Samuel 5:4), as did King Solomon (1 Kings 11:42).
Goliath challenged the Israelites twice a day for forty days before David defeated him (1 Samuel 17:16).
Elijah walked 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).
Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to bear the iniquity of Judea’s sins (Ezekiel 4:6).
Jonah prophesied that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days if they did not repent (Jonah 3:4).
Jesus fasted for 40 days before being tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).
Jesus appeared for 40 days after His resurrection giving testimony to many (Acts 1:3).
We see this rhythm of 40 in our everyday lives. The number of weeks for human gestation is 40. (Sidenote: Elephants have the longest gestation period of approximately 22 months. The shortest? The Virginia opossum at 12 days. Go figure!). Women would certainly agree that those 40 weeks are a needed time of transition and change for their bodies, their mental outlook, the entirety of their lives.
While we don't know what will happen AFTER this quarantine, these 40 days, there is something happening DURING the quarantine. There is a change taking place. Our earth is healing. Rivers are becoming clean. Air quality is breathable because of less pollution. And get this, the seismic vibration of the earth is less. The vibrations generated by cars, trains, buses and people doing what they do, during this quarantine, the earth is actually quieter.
"Brussels is seeing about a 30% to 50% reduction in ambient seismic noise since mid-March, around the time the country started implementing school and business closures and other social distancing measures. That noise level is on par with what seismologists would see on Christmas Day." -Thomas Lecocq, a geologist and seismologist at the Royal Observatory in Belgium
And this is not just our environment, but the seismic vibration in our families is becoming quieter. We are sitting down for dinner, together. We are taking walks and riding bikes, breathing in nature. We are doing church at home, together, not driving to a campus and going to our own classes.
As my kayak hit the low tides on the back bay of Newport Beach yesterday, I had a decision to make. To my left, the early morning sun was breaking through, glimmering on the quiet, smooth waters. To my right, toward the harbor, the marine layer was thick, full of fog, and the typical horizon of cleverly named boats were shrouded with low morning clouds. Typically I would head for the sun, but yesterday I was drawn to the fog. It felt like it was where I needed to be. It inspired me to think through the fog we are all in right now. There is something about deciding to enter in, experience the unknown, trusting only the next ten yards in front of me, knowing eventually light will burn through the fog.
You should know, I am familiar with this fog. The fog of not knowing what is next is deeply personal for me in this moment. Next week marks 40 weeks of unemployment. Not really anything to have an anniversary party about. It has certainly been a life-altering journey of entering into and finding my way through the fog. And, I'm not out of it. And, I don't know when I will come out of it. There's no guarantees. As I experience this fog on a macro scale with all that is going on in the world, I am keenly aware of my own micro encounter and how disorienting it all can be.
I was reminded of this story from Gerald Sittser, author of "A Grace Disguised." In one car accident, he lost three generations of women in his family: his mother, wife, and daughter. In this book he processes how the soul grows through loss. He described his pain and grief as a coming storm from the east, and to try to avoid it, he would run west, chasing the setting sun.
“The quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.”
There is permission to stop chasing the setting sun, holding on to how things once were, and sit a bit with the exhaustion from trying to keep up, and keep on. If this all feels tough right now, you are not alone. This quarantine is a time of change and transition, but it is not forever. Friends, the sun will come up again, burn through this fog, and life will go on. It will be different. It will be a new normal. But God is still present, He is still good, and He is sovereign over all things.
"From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised." Psalm 113:3