It seems impossible (and in hindsight, sheer folly) but three weeks ago someone in the chat during our streaming church service mentioned how they would miss our annual women’s retreat. By the time we were moving from our YouTube channel to the Zoom coffee hour, we were requesting a breakout room to talk about the possibility of an online retreat. Three weeks ago. And this weekend, it happened, and it was good.
As I recall, it used to be like this: a rush hour drive to a peaceful, nicely-appointed retreat center, gathering with thirty or so other women to share stories, take long walks, and enjoy a break from the everyday. This would be different; no driving was involved. But other than that, couldn’t we still share, walk, and create a sense of separation from...whatever we needed to get away from? Instead of the snack collection in the break room, we were limited to the contents of our own cupboards. Most of us had to figure out how to maintain a retreat state of mind while occupying a household going about their own business. For me, this meant setting myself up in the bedroom of our four-room apartment, with access to the master bath, while my husband had free reign of the three other rooms and the second bath.
I filled a pitcher with ice water, brought in my journal and pens, and made sure I had a small supply of snacks: dark chocolate, a pear, and some granola bars. It felt right.
We had a website to organize the schedule and invite interaction. We had a yoga, a craft activity, and even a Zoom dance party, and lots more. We had Zoom gatherings for meals, with small group breakout “tables” to replicate the cafeteria experience at the retreat center, a setting that many women remembered fondly as locations for creating and deepening relationships. We had a profoundly spiritual opening and closing. If you build it, they will come; we had over sixty registrations. Not everyone attended every session, but that was true of our earlier retreats. (I was notorious for “playing hookey” from retreats and heading to nearby brewpubs.)
So this afternoon, I am basking in the glow of a weekend well-spent. I am grateful for my community, for technology that can bring us together in hard times. I am grateful for the fearless women who stepped up to do this crazy thing, and for the trusting women who signed up t9 come alone for the ride, no matter how bumpy it might be.
Was it a real retreat? My friend Janne caught this screen shot of me during the closing meditation. It certainly felt like it.
I wasn't sure I should write this post. I have been corresponding with an inmate at a federal correctional institution for going on five years now, as part of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship's Worthy Now ministry. We exchange letters every few months, usually just sharing notes on the weather, books we are reading and other mundane topics. But this week I got a letter from him that I feel compelled to share. I am not going to reveal his location, name, or any information that might help identify him.
The unit he is in is low security, for nonviolent offenders, many of whom are also over fifty.
The virus hit [low security] first, brought in by the guards. At first, they did nothing - several people (including me) went to medical with shortness of breath, hard to breathe, no taste, no smell, aches...we were all sent back to our units - if you didn't have a temp you were fine! Consequently the virus ended up running rampant thru our building. 10+ went to the hospital on ventilators, 3 died.Then, in their wisdom, they ... put people with temps [together in one unit]...distributed [people already in that unit] to other units.
The people in those other units were then effectively locked in; no outside time at all. They were also informed about the need for "social distancing" and handwashing, and given a 4 ounce bottle of soap every week. Imagine an open space with a TV and tables for four, surrounded by open "rooms" (cubicles with no doors) furnished with bunk beds for 2 or 3 people.
After [several] weeks they issued two disposable masks; after a month and a half they gave us...cloth masks. Most of the guards have them - some don't wear them at all. [Nearly 30] guards are infected here. Not sure how many inmates since the Board of Prison numbers don't match the union numbers and none match the local hospital numbers.
They haven't tested that many. I had it and I know most in my unit had it. They did pull out ... guys with temps and moved them into the quarantine unit but unless you had a temp they did nothing. I was one of those. It got so bad my fingers were blue and I had a very difficult time breathing.
He is better now, and has learned that his release date has been moved up by six months, so he will be moved to a halfway house in about 18 months.
Every day, I feel more ashamed and angry. I just channeled some of that emotion into a donation to the Center for Prison Reform.