What we gave up during Lent


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



One of the most pleasant times of my life was in the late 1970s and early ’80s. As a result of several life events, I found myself a single parent to my two sons, Josh and Danny.

Both boys were in elementary school here in Wilmington. At that time, we lived on Westfield Drive in the Southridge section of town.

Our little neighborhood was overflowing with children. My boys had plenty of other kids to play with, but despite that, it was not unusual for a neighborhood boy to knock on our door and ask me to “come out and play.”

All the kids loved to play “street football,” but they liked to keep it fair by having only one quarterback. So, I was often recruited to be quarterback for both teams. It was great fun.

We also had squirt gun fights on hot summer days. They almost always turned into water balloon, water hose and water bucket fun fests that left everyone soaked to the skin. The real beauty of that time was the constant interaction we all had with others.

Forty years later, as I sit on the front porch of our home on Washington Avenue reading, the streets are empty. I know there are kids living up and down the street, but they are not allowed to play with each other.

Instead of playing “street football,” they’re huddled inside their homes in social isolation. It’s a sad time.

One of the worse punishments I could receive as a kid was being grounded. Steve Whitney lived directly across the street from us and if I was in trouble, usually Steve was, also. It was made only slightly more tolerable because Steve and I could pass a ball back and forth across the street.

We could laugh and enjoy each other’s company in a very limited way, but as I recall, I hated to be grounded. It was horrible. It still is.

Since Ash Wednesday, on February 26, we have been in the season of Lent. Lent is the time of year between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Not counting Sundays, it is a total of 40 days.

That time is supposed to be spent in worship and prayer. It is intended to remind us of the 40 days Jesus spent alone, hungry and thirsty in the wilderness. Lent is also a time when Christians are expected to give up something they enjoy.

Unfortunately, this year we all gave up the same thing; that is our ability to gather as family and friends. Social isolation meant no hugs from grandchildren. No gathering in church. Friends were not allowed to come over for cards, games and fellowship. No book club meetings. No business meetings or social meetings of any sort.

For the past month, we have sacrificed being with each other. We did this in an attempt to make sure we all remain as safe as possible from COVID-19. This season of Lent has been horrible.

For the past several weeks, we have held our adult Sunday school class using an app on our computers called ZOOM. At least we can see other and talk with each other. It’s better than not meeting at all, but we have all agreed that we miss the real, personal contact we always enjoyed.

Our church services have been shared with the congregation using Facebook or YouTube. We see and hear the service. We can join in the prayers and hymns, but it’s sadly not the same, but at least, we remain safe. We do not endanger each other by worshipping as a group.

Debbie and I sit on the couch and worship from a distance. We remember the verse from Matthew 18:20 where Christ told his followers, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

We don’t need to gather in a church building to worship. We can still feel the presence of Christ as we sit on our couch. God is with us wherever we go.

Someday, weeks or months from now, we will be able to gather safely. We will be able to make our way through our local Kroger on Friday evening, shopping, visiting and laughing with friends. Someday soon.

Earlier this month, Ellis Marsalis died. He was a New Orleans jazz legend, an educator and father of jazz greats Wynton Marsalis and Branford Marsalis.

Wynton is considered one of the greatest trumpet players of our generation. He is heartbroken that his father cannot be memorialized with a funeral parade down Bourbon Street, followed by a traditional New Orleans jazz burial.

On “60 Minutes” this past Sunday, Wynton Marsalis took the stage at an empty theater and played a tribute to his father. His trumpet solo was an amazing rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “Down by the Riverside.”

It was not what he or his family wanted, but it was necessary to keep his family and friends safe from the coronavirus. These are strange times.

These strange times require all of us to do things differently.

Just as Easter is a time of resurrection and deliverance, our time of isolation will eventually come to pass. We will be delivered from this. Our active, social lives will resume.

Until then, stay home. Stay safe.

By protecting each other, we will get through this together.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist