Months ago, my sister announced plans to rent a house on Mount Desert Island, inviting family members to join her. It’s a special place to our family, where we have spent time since childhood. The natural beauty and the personal connections of that place make it a spiritual home for me. When COVID became a reality, we all discussed whether we could still go, and under what conditions, and with what agreements and precautions. Recently my 80-year-old parents decided not to go. I wrestled with the decision: the risk versus the appeal. In choosing to go, I recognize that I am being selfish.
A recent article in the New York Times talked about this phenomenon: “Shhh! We’re Heading Off on Vacation” by Sarah Firshein. The article uses the phrase “vacation shaming” to name the guilt and shame associated with choices like the one I have made and how other people may view my choice. The truth is that in this pandemic, the choices individuals make add up to affect the whole of society: mask wearing, gathering in large groups, travel.
In my own decision, I recognize the selfishness and I also recognize the weariness that many of us are feeling: we have been giving up gathering with friends, special events that we had planned, and so on—for many months now, and we’re tired of it. It’s the length of the pandemic that makes it hard.
I also recognize the dangerous tendency to judge others and feel self-righteous. When other churches gather in contradiction of health guidelines, I judge them as stupid, bad, reckless. They are “those Georgia people” or “those religious conservatives.” When groups gather at bars in Mount Pleasant, they are “those reckless college students.” But when I choose to go to a vacation house in Maine, it is justified because it is “family time” and “natural beauty.”
May I be saved from my tendency to “other” people who are different from me. May I be saved from feeling like I am better, smarter, and morally superior to anyone else. And, may I have a healthy sense of self-criticism about my own choices, trying to hold myself to a standard of action that balances my needs with the good of society.
Life is full of choices that affect other people. All of our actions have ripples. In today’s world, out-of-state travel and contact with others carry risks—like my trip to Maine. Of course, the trip also benefits my well-being and my connection to family. I hope I am making the right choice.
Spirit of Life and Love, we are all individuals and we are all connected. In the unfolding universe, in the One-ness of life and mystery, this is clear.
May we be blessed with the clarity to judge ourselves and others fairly, and with compassion. May our judging of right and wrong balance the needs of the One and the needs of the Many. May we be wise and humble in judging ourselves and others.
May it be so. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Frantz