Those Were the Days
By MARIANNE WOOD
I learned a new abbreviation last fall when classes at Hardin-Simmons were held synchronously in the classrooms and via Zoom or simply F2F: Face to Face.
For ages, face-to-face teaching was the standard way of delivering instruction to prekindergarten age children through graduate school adults. But lately, brick and mortar classroom learning has succumbed to instruction via bits per second of internet bandwidth in many places. I hope I’ve stated that correctly. It’s hard to understand what you cannot fully see!
I took some of my AP Art History training in this manner. I was in Texas. The teacher led our workshop from Vienna, Virginia. And it was intriguing as people from who knows where jumped in and out of chat rooms–those little sidebars that can distract those of us over a certain age. Occasionally, I saw names flash by, or I saw the face of our teacher who employed some excellent skills at keeping the flow of information interesting.
But it was nothing compared with the AP Institute led by Doug Derracot in Dallas, where we not only sat in a room and discussed one art movement after another, but we took field trips to museums and sacred spaces. Yes, there was lots of “art in the dark,” a necessary part of this discipline as everyone knows from seeing the film “Mona Lisa Smiles” with Julia Roberts in the lead. But interacting with live humans, with unmasked faces, less than six feet apart and without fear of a deadly disease, wow: those were the days. My moving memory of that experience with Doug and many teachers, like a favorite film, rolls through my mind. I’m betting that some of you watch movies from 2019 and earlier, partly for the crowd scenes. Or reruns of sporting events with real people in the stands, not cardboard cutouts. Again, those were the days.
In 1968 Gene Raskin wrote English lyrics to a Russian melody by Boris Fomin, a song called “Those Were the Days.” It is one of the tunes that float in from my preteen years. Though it describes a tavern, a place entirely inappropriate for me at the time, it’s lilting melody and longing for a time when “we’d live the life we choose, we’d fight and never lose” fits this time when we, too, must fight to get back the life we choose. “Let us not neglect to gather together,” Hebrews 10:25, commands us. I think the ancient writer pictured that gathering occurring in an actual room.
So when my HSU students, all twenty of them, arrived in the studio on their appointed day, approximately half on Tuesday and a half on Thursday, I all but applauded them for coming to class. I heard myself say things like: “Thank you for coming to class.” How ridiculous that would have sounded a year earlier. Now, if only I knew that brown-haired girl from the one next to her. Does Bella have a pink mask, or is that Bettina? Thankfully, a couple of the young women had their first names embellishing one side of their masks, undoubtedly a gift from thoughtful parents.
Recently, I stood in line at the Round Building of the Taylor County Fairgrounds to receive my first shot of the COVID vaccine. I’m just old enough to qualify for the 1b group, the second of many groups to come. My hair color matched most of the others in the line. I was masked, and so were they. I probably knew at least a dozen of my co-vaccinees, but I only recognized two who were in a booth right across from mine where a man in a blue uniform administered the powerful life-saving medicine. He wore an American flag mask over his face. We were F2F but not wholly. I’d never know him on the street.
So now we are trusting people we could not assuredly pick out of a lineup–perfect strangers to help save us from this deadly plague. It’s so weird. I miss faces.
And that’s a good thing. God made us for community. There are an even 100 verses attesting to this here: https://www.openbible.info/topics/fellowship
Psalm 55:14 in the English Standard Version particularly caught my attention. “We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house, we walked in the throng.”
According to my online dictionary, a throng is a large, densely packed crowd of people or animals. I sure miss walking in throngs. Throngs of almost any kind: church gatherings, classrooms, family celebrations, birthday parties…especially throngs without a screen and often many miles between us. We were made for community. I think this meditation sparked a recent dream in which I saw a very dear friend in a crowd, and the next moment she was gone. I miss proximity.
Community sharing often involves hospitality. I Peter 4:9 ESV commands us to show hospitality to one another without grumbling. Vacuuming this morning, I thought, “there’s less to clean and less motivation to clean. How I long for a table full of people and even the crumbs they leave behind.”
It’s hard to share life via the computer. Sure, Zoom, FaceTime, Google docs, Dropbox, and the like are helpful. But gathering around a table, a picture of covenant: breaking bread together is missing. And our hearts are in danger of becoming walled off as a result.
Evidently, I’m not the only person thinking about this. Amanda Mull writing for Atlantic Magazine, Jan. 27, 2021, has a story that headlines with “The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship: There’s a reason you miss the people you didn’t even know that well.” She presents the concept that not just our inner circles of friendship matter, but the outer rings, too. These “weak ties” or people with whom you have a nodding acquaintance are important to our well-being, too. The article is well-researched and I highly recommend it for its warning of the dangers of isolation and sticking in our own friendship bubbles too much. And for this: “Humans are meant to be with one another, and when we aren’t, the decay shows in our bodies.” I hear an echo of Scripture in that. Amen.
Marianne Wood works as an editorial assistant and researcher for Bill Wright