My Hometown

Gwen Ford Faulkenberry
It is 7:30 AM. I got up early to walk my three miles. The dogs went with me, as always. Black and white constants in a world that feels increasingly gray. But it’s not gray today. Signs of spring are everywhere–hyacinths, irises, and tulips burst from their bulbs and up straight and strong through the ground. Redbuds splash purple in a sea of green. Pollen lies like yellow lace around the edges of puddles. The air smells new. And birds sing their songs for anyone with ears to hear.

Out in the country you can almost pretend it’s a normal day. But it’s not normal, because my kids are still in bed instead of on the way to school. I’m writing this before checking in with students over a myriad of digital platforms–whatever they can access. And Stone is about to don a mask and go to his classroom, in and out quick like a ninja, to retrieve a few supplies. Around 8:00 everyone will be up: my college student, high school junior, seventh grader, and second grader. Like a one-room schoolhouse in the days of Laura Ingalls they’ll gather around, working on their own lessons for the next three or four hours. Except instead of slates and chalk they each have their own computers. And like me, they’ll probably stay in their pajamas. Yesterday we did church the same way, besides the fact that we all watched the same screen together. It was kind of cozy.

I love being with my kids and Stone. And my brother and sister-in-law and their kids are next door. My parents are next door on the other side but I haven’t been in their house for three weeks now, or even touched them. The closest we get is across the porch or several feet apart in the yard. I know I’m lucky to have that, but I miss eating together and hugging and running in and out. My kids miss playing Doogies and Rook with Granny and PaPa, and spending the night at their house. It’s ingrained in them that this is what love looks like: togetherness. Now we are trying to teach them that love means being apart. Not because it’s what we like or want or enjoy for ourselves, but because it protects Granny and PaPa from getting sick.

This is a theme that’s been growing in my mind. Like those bulbs buried all winter in the dark, the other day it finally sprouted. I’d been watching people hoard, criticize, ignore, demand, and blame leaders, especially politicians. Fear and anxiety can spread across the world faster than a virus. I struggled daily trying to figure out my role, to come up with a spiritual vaccine I might offer. What could protect us from losing our better selves in the face of this crisis?

What finally cracked open the bulb was a message from my friend Melanie on Facebook. My daughter Zaynah is missing. She went outside and we thought she was just going on a walk but she didn’t come back and now it’s been hours. We can’t find her. Please pray.

Oh God, I thought. How would I feel, what would I do if this was my child? As my mind branched out toward all of the worst possible conclusions, I felt a gentle prodding. “That’s what you do now.”

While the rest of us prayed, the men of the Triple F deployed to Melanie’s house, armed with boots and flashlights, ready to search all night if they had to. What they found when they arrived was that hundreds of other people had the same idea. Community leaders, teachers and co-workers of Melanie, church family, and others who don’t even know Melanie showed up to search and rescue her little girl. Because in this crisis we remembered a simple truth that can vaccinate us against a sick world: there is no such thing as other people’s children. In that moment the little girl wasn’t just Melanie’s daughter. She was all of ours–our Zaynah. And we couldn’t rest until she was safe at home. (Which happened right at dark, thanks be to God.)

What I take from this experience, other than that the people of my hometown are awesome as usual, is the same kind of lesson I’m trying to teach my children about protecting Granny and PaPa. Love means you look out for others. It seems the human impulse is the opposite–look out for ourselves. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s smart. It’s being cautious. It’s following the rules. But I think the vaccine that will keep us from losing more to this virus is to shift our thinking from just protecting ourselves toward protecting others. Love always protects.

It’s a counter-culture response, and it’s our choice to make. We can’t choose for COVID-19 not to exist. But we can choose how we respond to it. We can choose to be strong together. What does protecting other people look like other than searching for a lost child? Not hoarding all of the toilet paper? Not going into Granny and Papa’s house? How might we implement this spiritual vaccine on a local and national level? From the supply chain to our most vulnerable population to all of our children it will take some creativity and some sacrifice. But if there’s anything a crisis is good for it reminds us of the truth our better selves have always known. There is no them. There is only us. Click To Tweet


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