Harvesting the Good Old Days by Emily Bengels

“The good old days are here and now”– that’s what the sign said in Mrs. Bohlin’s seventh grade English classroom. I didn’t believe it. When you’ve just had a math textbook thrown on your head as you’re rushing through the stairwell en route to class, you don’t believe a sign that calls these the “good old days.” Her classroom was a refuge from the taunts of middle school bullies. But it wasn’t just the kids that made me disbelieve my favorite teacher that year; it was also myself. In case you’ve forgotten (and I doubt you have), seventh grade hormones are not a lot of fun! I had already given up looking in the mirror due to the alien acne which had decided to move onto my forehead, and the mood-swings didn’t make me pleasant to be with back at home! I loved my teacher, but I didn’t know what she was thinking when she chose that quote for her classroom’s backdrop.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about her message, but I also think about Charles Dickens’s “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” novel-opener. All you need to do is scroll down a page or two on Facebook before you see a dystopic truth or a meme complaining about 2020. What’s next? My heart weeps for the immense loss of life humanity has experienced, along with the loss of the way of life we once knew. I wonder if we’ll ever go back to going maskless, or (gasp!) singing as a full choir in person again. I miss hugs. I miss the days when “unprecedented,” “social distancing,” and “the new normal” were not a part of daily discourse. I miss being together with all of you.

However, to throw in another quote (this one, thanks to Joni Mitchell), there’s “…something lost but something gained in living every day.” Just last night, I arrived at the Old Stone Church just as Key W. was mowing a section of green next to our wildflower paradise. We’ve been harvesting songs in that beautiful area, surrounded by a loving land and sky. 2020 has allowed me to spend more time in the great outdoors than ever before! A few weeks ago, I stood in the doorway of the Old Stone Church and chatted with Linda B. about the amazing work that has taken place in our spiritual home. Her pride and gratitude for having a place to focus her energy during this time was apparent, and we will all reap the benefits of the many efforts involved with cleaning, painting, and beautifying our building and grounds. 

Furthermore, throughout all of our Zoom services and other online events, we have come together as a community with social closeness despite physical distance. Friends who have moved away and family members who live in other states are now able to be part of our welcoming and wise circle. Musicians who might not be free to leave their homes on Thursday nights can now take part in virtual choirs (and are welcome to join small-group choir rehearsals outside throughout the week.) We have been able to join with other congregations, too!

At the end of seventh grade, I confronted Mrs. Bohlin about her quote. I suggested she change it, explaining how rough the year had been. At first, she laughed. “Hey, my name is Ann Bohlin, and I get teased all the time.” (Quick history refresher: Anne Boleyn was one of the executed wives of Henry VIII.) I don’t think she meant to minimize my struggles; she was a master at deflecting pain with humor. In fact, I know she listened to me. You see, the next year, I was back in her class again. In eighth grade, however, she had a new quote: “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were really the big things.”

2020 isn’t the year we planned. As a community, we have adjusted and keep adjusting. As we work on harvesting songs for darker days, I hope we can enjoy the days of light. As we sing together while we can socially distance outside, I hope we can feel the warmth of our community even from afar. Some day, we will be together again and we will have stories to tell about the little things that helped get us through. Zoom is here to stay, as are the building improvements and our increased connection with the land. Maybe Mrs. Bohlin was right: the good old days ARE here and now. This is the time we have. Let’s keep making the most of it!