Pancakes: Pandemic Vignettes

February 1, 2020: Prophetic Pancake

When you live off the road system, sometimes you have to make do. I ran out of my favorite multigrain pancake mix sometime last fall, and have since been working to perfect my own blend. It’s getting close to how I like it: fluffy, not too white, not too sweet. I’m planning to ski today, so I make a whole batch. I can use the leftovers as trail food, layering them with cheese or peanut butter and jam.

Today, one of them turns out like a scary death-head skull face. It’s weird enough that I take a photo.

I know it’s just some pancake batter frying in coconut oil, but it really creeps me out. I’m listening to NPR while I make breakfast and the top news items of the day are sufficiently ominous. One: The U.S. Senate voted against hearing additional witnesses in the Trump Impeachment. (As you may remember of this ancient history, he’d already been impeached by the Democrat-dominant House. Now the Republican-dominant Senate has voted against hearing any more testimony. To me, this signals a complete disregard for truth and justice, and is clearly the end of the impeachment process.) My scary pancake, as I interpret it, is telling me about the Death of Democracy. Two: To bolster that interpretation, February 1st is also the day that Brexit (Britain’s Exit from the European Union, remember that?) becomes official. So, my pancake is telling me about the Death of the European Union. Nationalism and lies are on the uptick, cooperation and humanity on the decline.

Buried underneath these two headliner stories, though, was another: “Major Airlines Suspend Flights Between U.S. and China Amid Coronavirus.” At that time, there were 12,000 confirmed cases in China, 250 dead, and six cases already in the U.S. The World Health Organization had declared the Wuhan coronavirus a global emergency. In just five and a half weeks, on March 11, the pandemic would be declared. And on March 12, the first case of COVID-19 would appear in Alaska.

While all eyes were facing the burning rubble of a dying democracy (some thought this was a victory, of course), what the pancake was trying to point out got totally missed. We should have been preparing for the pandemic then, in early February, instead of running business as usual. Hindsight is 2020.

And, yes, I ate that pancake. Maple syrup can make anything more palatable.

April 12, 2020: Holy Communion Pancake

Church was never the place for me. I was always too skeptical, questioning everything, wanting clear answers and explanations instead of Bible verses. My doubts began in Sunday school, at a very young age. As a teenager, social anxiety and introvertedness made going to church even more miserable. Uncomfortable clothes, reading in unison with a large group of people, blind faith; all of it felt wrong to me.

And yet. I loved the actual space of our church, which was peaceful, mostly unadorned, and filled with light. And I loved singing, especially if I could stand next to my mom, who knew all the alto parts. The church we went to was a welcoming and friendly congregation, didn’t fall into the ways of judgement and hypocrisy that so many Christian churches do. If I had been able to see beyond the literal messages, I would have realized that it was a group of people who were united in genuine kindness, in the desire to help others and to build community. But back then, I protested every Sunday. Some weeks my parents would let me stay home. But the deal was: while they were at church, I was required to spend time outside, and look for spiritual guidance among the trees and the birds instead.

This Easter, I surprised myself by suggesting to my parents that we tune in to their church’s online Easter service together. They moved a few years ago, and now belong to a different congregation than the one I grew up attending. At this point, we’ve been quarantining for almost a month. COVID is devastating New York City and Detroit. Alaska’s first positive test was on March 12th; now there are 272 cases. That may not sound like a lot, but keep in mind that Alaska’s entire population is under 700,000 people. There are only 128 ICU beds in the whole state.

My parents live in Michigan, while I’m here in Alaska under what feels like solitary confinement. I live alone and don’t have any pets. On March 20, the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, a significant income-generating event for my guide business, was cancelled. I can see the writing on the wall, and guess that tourism will be non-existent this season. I do have some other work, but my employer won’t let me work from home, so I’ve walked off the job. While it feels good to stand by my principles (and the state mandates), not having my work to go to has left me with a sense of purposelessness. But the isolation has been the worst. There have been some bad days, when the fear overwhelms me completely. When will I ever get a hug again? When, if ever, will I see my distant loved ones alive?

Sitting for half an hour with my parents in virtual “pajama church” somehow sounds like just the right thing.

Pastor Len has a recorded Easter service and liturgy prepared, and instructions that we should set our table with bread and wine for communion. He understands that our shopping opportunities may have been limited recently, so “a cup with maybe juice or water is fine… slices of bread, some crackers, whatever you have in the house.” For the wine, I have orange juice. And of course, for the bread, I make pancakes.

I half expect Jesus’s face or the Virgin Mary to appear when I flip each pancake, but no. This is not to be.

I get my parents on the phone, and when we are ready, we get our computers set up and do a countdown so we can hit the play button on the church service at the exact same moment. Miraculously, it works. We are in synch. I mute my phone to limit the echoes, and follow along.

“I want you to imagine that you are not by yourself,” says the pastor. “I want you to think in your mind, ‘who might I normally be sitting by or standing by in church? Whose face, or whose faces might I see? Who would be coming to the table with me to receive the bread and the cup?’ That’s what I’m inviting: that we gather what we have. We have a big table by the power of the Spirit. We’re bringing in our mind, in our memory, to each other — this company of people — gathered around these many, many tables today.”

I’m touched by Pastor Len’s sincerity, his calm demeanor. He is near retirement; this is the last Easter service he will perform. Never in his wildest imaginings could he have foreseen that it would be like this. The light of pure empathy shines from him, even through the miles, even through the computer screen. My parents’ voices are close, right next to me. I unmute myself at key moments, so they’ll know I’m still here. We are sharing this time and place.

“Let’s prepare our hearts for the mystery that may well take place.”

I close my eyes and join in a moment of silence, with Pastor Len, with my parents, with an entire congregation of people I have never met but can sense gathered in this shared space.

“I invite us to gather the bread and the cup, and to share in this meal. Let us receive.”

I tear off a bit of pancake. Place it in my mouth. The flavors, normally so familiar, burst forth on my tongue, entirely new. I see the sunshine on the wheat. Feel the warmth of the soil where the corn grew. I am transported to a tropical forest in Sri Lanka, palm leaves rippling in a slight wind, and see the coconuts clustered on the trees. I’m whisked back to my town, to my friend’s yard, feel the soft feathers touch my hand as I reach under a hen to collect her eggs.

“The cup of the new covenant.”

I take a sip of orange juice. In that moment, I’m in Florida, in an orange grove surrounded by scrub and palmetto forest. Gopher tortoises peek out of their sandy burrows. A kettle of Black and Turkey Vultures circles overhead. The sun is warm on the top of my head.

“Let us pray. God, we thank you for this time of connection. In a way that we never would have guessed possible some years ago, and never hope really to need very often in the future again. We long for the time when we can gather again. We know that even when we are separate, even if we are not in one place, we are together in your love, and your grace, and your peace.”

Amen, we say together.

This entry was posted in Alaska, Culture, Florida, food, Michigan, Seldovia and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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