We're experiencing the Snowstorm of the Century here in Maryland (a.k.a. Snowmeggeton, Snowpacalyse, snOw M G, Snowtorious B.I.G.) and for the fourth day in the row there is no school in Howard County. All the Columbia Association facilities are closed (no gym, no art classes) and all Howard County facilities are closed (no library). And for the fourth day in the row, the Federal Government is closed.
I remember the first time I heard about the government closing, back in 2003 when we also had a ton of snow. The news struck me as funny. I mean, I understood that it was going to be hard for people to drive into D.C. and I understood that the metro wasn't running. But how can you shut the government down? Isn't that like saying that we're going to shut down the highway system or the water treatment facility? Isn't government essential?
Turns out it's not. At least, most of it isn't. There is a category of federal employee called "non-essential workers", and the vast majority of jobs fall into that category. My husband explained it to our kids this way a few days ago: "Well you see, in this area we don't actually produce anything. We just manage things. So it's probably a relief to everyone when we take a few days off."
Neither Dan nor I have been able to get to our jobs since this past Saturday. We've been doing our best to telecommute and plenty of our work just requires a computer. But I've had to admit something to myself this week: I too am a "non-essential worker."
This doesn't mean that I think my job (my "call") to be unimportant overall. I love being a pastor of a congregation, and I am reminded on a daily basis that other people value and appreciate my work. But if I am not able to do it for a day, or two, or four, nothing falls apart. The world can very easily go on without me.
This is a pretty helpful discovery, I think. It might even be a good reason to have a 30" snowfall.
Back in December, the last time we had an enormous amount snow, I was not surprised that we canceled worship. But I was very sorry that a wedding scheduled for the Saturday of the storm was canceled. On Sunday morning, when I got back from three hours of incredible cross country skiing, the phone was ringing. It was Tracy, excitedly announcing that her wedding was going to happen that day--in 45 minutes, in fact.
I went from a state of total relaxation and contentment to near hysteria in a split second. In the next 30 minutes I showed, changed, blow dried my hair, printed my homily, shoveled my driveway and cleared off my minivan. I drove out of my driveway ten minutes before the wedding was supposed to begin and promptly got stuck in the unplowed street. It took another 10 minutes and five neighbors to push our van back into the driveway. I tearfully called everyone I could think of who would be at the wedding while trying to figure out what my Plan B would be.
Sandy called back a few minutes later and put Tracy on the phone. To my complete shock, she was totally unconcerned about my inability to get to her wedding. Sandy would fill in for me she assured me (Sandy can legally perform weddings). Everything was under control.
From all accounts, it was a totally wonderful wedding. Sandy did a great job, people from all over the neighborhood walked over, musicians showed up and started playing their instruments, a pot-luck reception was just what was needed. I was so glad, for Tracy's sake. But the truth is, I was a little hurt. It had absolutely never occurred to me that I was "non-essential" at a wedding. I'm the minister, after all!
But after a few hours of sulking, it occurred to me that this is good news. Knowing that other people can do what you do removes the heavy load of "have to" and "ought to" from much of our work and replaces it with the graceful reminder that we do what we do because we have chosen to respond to God's call in this way.
Maybe this is an essential part of understanding our work as a call, a response to God's invitation to participate in actualizing God's desire for the world. We can affirm the importance of our work and understand that we are part of something which is bigger and more "essential" than any of our individual efforts to respond.