Have you forgotten yet? Have you forgotten what it felt like to go about your life pre-pandemic?
My brain has switched to a different filter system. If I watch a movie or see an image from the pre-pandemic world, the first thing I notice is that people are standing too close to each other. Or I notice that they are touching each other. People are supposed to be in proximity to each other only in the boxes of Zoom or in the confines of their home or in a hospital where the staff has on protective equipment. That pandemic filter overlays itself onto everything now, even memories.
It’s hard to access the joy of greeting someone with a hug or handshake, because those things are something we must tell our bodies not to do. We have to resist that urge. We have to rewire our impulses. There are tiny threads of shared trauma in it all—how will we ever feel like we can be together again and not be afraid?
Of course, that feeling is not foreign to many people. But that feeling has a different kind of intensity and grief when the whole world is feeling it at the same time.
Will we all forget what it feels like for our bodies to brush up against each other without terror, without anger on public transportation, in line at a concession stand, or walking down a crowded city street?
Forgetfulness can be such loss. But it can also be redemptive.
Our bodies shift into new modes of moving and being with an amazing capacity to adapt sometimes. When the urgency is there we shift into a different gear, a different way of being.
Can I forget the sense of urgency that white supremacy culture taught me to have about producing and achieving and getting a lot done everyday? Can I forget the way patriarchy taught me to dress and present myself as a professional woman in the workplace? Can I forget the way capitalism has tied my value to the revenue I generate and the things that I say are “mine”?
I pose these thoughts as queries because I don’t know the answers. Frankly, none of us do. Unlearning habits with intentionality is different than redemptive forgetfulness. You can unlearn a faulty throwing motion or way of sitting in a chair, but your body may still be tempted in times of fatigue or lack of focus to lapse back into those habits.
Forgetting those ways of being and doing and thinking is altogether different. Forgetting those old ways means no longer having access to even the impulse to lapse back into them.
The losses will be profound if we forget what it feels like to want to be together physically. Redemptive re-membering after the pandemic will be slow work, like after childbirth. You need time to re-member what your body feels like when it is not pregnant, not gripped by labor. We will need time to re-member what it feels like to be at ease when people are close by.
Redemptive forgetfulness is perhaps an even more promising prospect for the world right now. Our collective redemption could be profound if we forget what it feels like to be a commodity or an object for someone else’s gaze or caught in a cycle of production and distraction that takes us out of the present moment.
Redemptive forgetfulness is categorically different than regaining a set of feelings and impulses we had before the pandemic. Redemptive forgetfulness is about something altogether new, something we’ve never known before. Redemptive forgetfulness creates the condition of possibility for our bodies to feel new sensations that replace those old ones with something more life-giving, more joyful, more zestful and alive.
Forgetting enough to find redemption is my prayer these days.
Marcia Mount Shoop is an author, theologian, and minister. She is the Pastor/Head of Staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC. Her newest book, released from Cascade Books in October 2015, is A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches, co-authored with Mary McClintock Fulkerson. Marcia is also the author of Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ (WJKP, 2010) and Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports (Cascade, 2014). Find out more at www.marciamountshoop.com