By Deacon John De Gano
This morning I woke up from a dream where Cheryl and I were standing in line ordering food from one of our local fast food restaurants. We placed our order and were about to pay for it when Cheryl asked if the restrooms were open.
The young person behind the counter replied, “Restrooms are only for paying customers.” As she said this, her face went visibly pale as she realized what she had just said. In that moment of confusion, the manager standing next to her grabbed her elbow and ushered her into the back, presumably to fire her.
I woke up just then, thinking, “But we are customers...”
I could have let it go, chalking it up as only a dream, but we have experienced this very same scenario multiple times in real life – especially since the pandemic – as restaurants continue to struggle to remain open, provide service and maintain their dining rooms and restrooms with a reduced, if not skeleton, crew. And, of course, there are many, many new faces to be trained and supervised.
As a result of this new reality, patience is easily strained. Lines become unbearably long and orders get mixed up or lost.
It is at times like this that we need to step back and take a breath.
Many of us want to put the last 18 months behind us as quickly as possible. We want control over our lives again and aren’t willing to allow for simple mistakes or nervousness to delay the receipt of our order. We take anything less than perfection personally, viewing such delays as having a negative impact on our ability to schedule our lives, our “more important” jobs and our vacations.
The truth is, COVID-19 has unleashed the worst side of many of us. In our isolation we have discovered that we are selfish, needy and even boring. And we are fearful. We fear that we are being left behind, that others are getting ahead in their careers and buying new stuff while we are struggling just to keep a roof over our heads.
We blame our neighbors, our family and most often, the stranger, because we don’t want to recognize our own complicity in this mess. We lash out, insult or hurt one another without considering their feelings or situations.
A lot has been said about vaccines (and now a newly developed pill) that will reduce the severity of COVID-19, but what is our government and society doing to address the bigger pandemic of self-centeredness and greed?
Who will wake us out of the selfish stupor we are in so that we give the other person the benefit of the doubt? When will we learn to consider what they are going through and what they may need? When will we truly listen to one another? To encourage and/or to reconcile?
With the invocation of the Synod in October, Pope Francis is calling the faithful to inoculate themselves through the practice of listening and reflection: to dream of new ways of being church. The Pope is asking us to go out to those on the edges and encounter their realities, their needs and hopes, and hopefully, invite them to join us as we journey together in solidarity and in synodality, as the church seeks to listen for the “echo” of the Holy Spirit, guiding and instructing her on how best to respond to the needs of our time.
During this Synod, let us become our best selves, no longer viewing ourselves as customers or consumers but people and friends and community. Let’s see ourselves as neighbors encountering Christ in one another and building the Kingdom of God together in peace and unity, just as the Prophet Isaiah said:
“Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them” (Isaiah 11:6).
John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.