My home’s property abuts that of a Baptist church, the construction of which apparently caused some resentment on the part of the previous owners of our house—who I suppose felt it would obstruct their pristine backyard view.

But the church has never bothered me. In fact, even without the line of evergreens the pastor planted along the property line as a peace offering—which are now quite tall and lush—I find the view to be calming, grounding even.

I am not a churchgoer, nor do I subscribe to an organized religion. But I respect and wholly support the freedoms we have in this country to pray any way we want, to any deity we believe in. Moreover, the sight of cars filing into the church lot has always evoked a sense of community and solidarity—something increasingly hard to find these days.

When the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown struck, the church property fell eerily silent for weeks, a constant reminder of the sequestered and splintered congregation holed up in their homes, missing their community.

But that changed about a month ago. While weeding my flower garden one Sunday morning, I heard a booming voice coming from the church’s direction. At first, I suspected a megaphone-wielding police officer (kids had taken to skateboarding on the temptingly empty lot) or an ad blasting through our SONOS system. I soon realized it was the pastor’s voice, delivering an outdoor sermon to a connection-hungry congregation.

I couldn’t hear clearly enough to discern the message, only an occasional word, phrase, or inflection. But the lilt of the voice coupled with the fragmented visual—spots of color seen through tree branches from scattered lawn chairs and cars—made me somehow feel a little less isolated and a bit more hopeful that normalcy wasn’t entirely out of reach.

And it got me thinking…would the world be a kinder place if people could eavesdrop on others while they worship? Would we somehow realize that we are more the same than we are different?

It’s normal and understandable to be fearful of what we don’t understand, but curiosity and openness can de-charge those feelings. During this tumultuous period, when myriad fears have been triggered on many levels, across our country and across the globe, I found an unexpected comfort from the parking lot next door. As an anonymous, quasi participant, I was able to find joy in a faceless, inaudible sermon.

And that begged the question…what other potential joys have I overlooked or ignored? What could I choose to be more curious and open about?

As we continue to move through this strange and unsettling period in our history, it may help to look for unexpected joys and surprises that have bolstered you. It doesn’t take much looking to find uncertainty, inconvenience, or discomfort, which makes finding such pearls even more worthwhile. You may even discover things you’d like to keep hold of, to weave into the fabric of your daily life.

The services have since moved back inside the church, the parking lot has once again silent on Sunday mornings—but only after the bustle of masked families has filed inside. While I’m happy for the congregation, I miss the sound of solidarity, kindness, and community wafting up from the other side of the trees.

In some small way, I feel a part of that community. Faceless to them, as they are to me.

But still connected.

This article was published in Elephant Journal on July 17, 2020.

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