This interview is one part of a series written by our 2020 CBF Summer Ministry Intern, Emmaline Rogers.
Linda Serino and I met in the sanctuary on a day when the rain fell so hard the air itself seemed to have become a liquid. She told her story with a matter-of-fact tone, never complaining, though at times speaking with a slightly mournful undertone. She began by telling of a trip to Las Vegas that she and her husband had planned to take in order to see their granddaughter play soccer in a national tournament in early March. They had made reservations at Zion and Bryce National Parks on the way, two stops that had been on their bucket list for some time. They cancelled the trip only days before the tournament itself was cancelled. By then, the dangers of travel were becoming more and more prevalent. The world was beginning to shut down.
Linda was unprepared for the totality of the quarantine. She told me of one afternoon when she was picking up her grandson from White Station: “[He] said, ‘Oh, next they’ll be cancelling schools,’ and in my mind I thought, ‘oh, no, you know, it’s not that serious,’ and it was just a few hours until we got the word that schools were closed. …It was faster than I could really process the extent that that would mean.” She went on to say, “I guess the first time it was really shocking to me [was] that first weekend; school was out on Friday and they told us to start staying at home. But I didn’t think that meant my immediate family, and we had some kind of family celebration planned at our house, and so I told the kids and their children, ‘Y’all come on to our house,’ and each one called back and said ‘No, we can’t do that, we can’t come see you.’ …It was more restrictive than I expected it to be.”
At first, Linda was able to keep busy. She and her husband had just moved into their house, so she had plenty of boxes to unpack and a home to settle into. But as that clutter shrank, the amount of time on her hands grew. “You know, at first I focused on the things I was missing,” she told me. “As we get older, I’m realizing our time is really limited, so I’m missing some of the occasions with the grandchildren and traveling with them that I may not be able to go back and recover.” But then she told me about the gratitude journal she keeps, and how that has helped her to see a silver lining. “There’s not another time that [my husband and I] would have had this much quality time together,” she said. “And so fortunately we still like each other, we like to watch TV together, we like to read together, we like to take walks together. So I’ve really enjoyed the quality time that I’ve had with him. Because at our age, and at any age, you don’t know about tomorrow, and I think that’s been the biggest anxiety over all of this, is that you really can’t plan for tomorrow. Because we don’t know what it’s going to look like. So I’m really trying to focus on today and taking it one day at a time.”
“I have tried to text or call someone different every day,” she told me. “So I’ve been working through my contact list and some of them are pretty obvious, they’re friends that I would get together with, but some of them are people I haven’t really heard from in a long time, and so I’ve enjoyed that practice of reaching out to someone just to say, I’m checkin’ on you, you know, are you doing okay, and catching up a little bit. So I’m really grateful for technology…it’s one thing to text your husband and say pick me up, but it’s another thing to really reconnect with people that, you know, I wouldn’t even have really had time to think about, maybe send [them] a Christmas card, not just to have time to say what’s going on in your life and how are you coping with this.”
Time, she said, has slowed down for her. “…If I want to work on this recipe for four hours, I have time to do that. So I think the difference in the feel of time, it both has positives and negatives, because I forgot prayer meeting last week because I forgot it was Wednesday, I mean every day seems the same. But I have enjoyed a slower pace of life.”
“I made my first homemade chicken potpie last week,” she said. “I was really just hungry for comfort food and I had some leftover chicken and so I got on the internet and found one that I had the ingredients for, and it turned out to be an all afternoon endeavor, but the house smelled like baked pastry all afternoon, and it was delicious. We had a couple meals [of it] and then I took it to my grandchildren and they just gobbled it up, so. Really enjoyed chicken pot pie.”
Linda has missed being physically close to her friends and family the most, out of everything the pandemic has caused her to lose. “It is a joy to see [my grandchildren], even if across six feet,” she told me, but she mourned not being able to hug them. She and her husband were the daily “uber drivers” before the pandemic, “and that, you know, that just dropped. Not only did that drop, but we really couldn’t visit with them, for a long time.” And though some of the precautions have eased in her family, “we don’t go in each other’s houses yet, I hope that’ll change soon. …That was a real void when that stopped so abruptly.” On top of that, not being able to pay hospital visits or check in on homebound members of the congregation has also weighed heavily on her. “That’s been another void, is that I call people and I text and I send letters, but not being able to see people and hug people has been hard because that’s a part of my daily routine, is to check in on my folks.”
Linda then told a story that perfectly captures the heartbreaking reality of this pandemic. “At one point [my youngest grandson] was playing in the rain, a rain storm came up, and so he was totally delighted with that and ran to play in the rain and he needed something and I went out there to give it to him and I forgot and touched him, and he just shrunk back and said, ‘Don’t touch me Nana.’ And it hurt my feelings for a second, and then I realized how much his parents have said to him, ‘Don’t get near Nana and Papa,’ you know, they’ve been so protective of us because of our age, but that was a shocking moment, just for me to touch his skin and for him to yell, ‘Don’t touch me!’ So the [loss of] touch has been the hardest for me.”
When asked about her faith journey through the pandemic, she responded:
I think the pandemic has given me more quality time for prayer and devotional reading. I never feel in a hurry to get it done because I have other things to do! My prayers are both very personal and yet global. Never before has there been a time when I feel so much grief and pain for the suffering of people around the globe. Retirement has brought the opportunity to travel, and we took our two children, their spouses, and the older 2 grandchildren to Italy two summers ago. Bob is Italian and we were able to find the little town of Serino and visit the gravesites and home villages of some of his ancestors. As I thought about the struggle Italy was having in the pandemic, it felt so much more personal, as I could see the faces of the people we met – in the villages and in Rome. I pray for my own children and grandchildren. I know the grandchildren’s lives will never be the same. I don’t know what long-term effect this anxiety and disruption in their lives will have, but I try daily to give those worries to God’s care. I also try to express my gratitude daily to God – for health, for economic resources, for family, for my faith community…for the helpers wherever we find them.
Linda has discovered during this pandemic how tightly those helpers surround her. Her Sunday School class has become closer, something she has come to deeply rely on. “That has become, I think, an even tighter group emotionally and spiritually to support one another.” Her neighbors have also become a support system; she lives in a gated community of about forty of houses of older families who “look out for each other.” That form of love has become vital to Linda, shown through the routine meetings of her book club, her husband’s breakfast club, and various church events. Though she misses seeing people’s faces and coming to church where her “roots are deep,” she has found peace in living into the quietness of each day.