By Barb Arland-Fye
As he entered the “Fye” pew before Mass last weekend, our son Colin exclaimed in a loud whisper, “The social distancing signs are gone!” The laminated signs that for two years designated alternating pews off limits where we normally sit at Our Lady of the River Church in LeClaire were gone.
Colin knew that our diocese lifted COVID-19 restrictions because he read about the new guidelines in the March 3 issue of The Catholic Messenger. The physical proof of the changes shocked him because rituals, routines and ironclad rules provide individuals with autism, like him, a sense of security and reassurance. The social distancing signs became an ironclad rule (on the side of the church where we sit). Breaking a rule takes time to absorb.
The pandemic is not over, but the risk of infection has declined significantly. Our diocese responded by issuing guidelines that allow the faithful to receive Communion under both forms of bread and wine, sing with the choir during Mass and without masks, and exchange the sign of peace, among other changes. Our son was over the moon about the changes he longed for — receiving the precious blood from the cup and exchanging the sign of peace again. However, the swift transition causes him to act tentatively. COVID-19 broke all the rules and now he must cope with a new set of rules. I know he is thinking, “Will those rules change, too?”
Our parish has a tradition during Lent of emptying our CRS Rice Bowls each week into a big basin at the front of the church during the offertory. Last week, I gave Colin our Rice Bowl filled with coins, or so he thought. Dad (my husband, Steve) told Colin long ago that we put loose change into the Rice Bowl to donate to Catholic Relief Services for hungry people around the world. Colin found a $20 bill mixed in with the coins in the Rice Bowl. With a questioning expression on his face, he looked toward me for guidance. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I nodded toward him to place the bill in the basin along with the coins.
As I reflected on that “glitch,” I thought about something an acquaintance told me earlier. During a fundraising chili cook off, her 14-year-old grandson with autism lined up sample cups of each contestant’s chili entry. All of the entries were numbered, but number 12 was missing! Her grandson, who does not like to talk to strangers, mustered the courage to ask someone what happened to number 12. He learned the contestant had withdrawn from the competition. “It still bothered him,” his grandmother told me. “He said he didn’t like that because it changed the whole routine.”
If Colin had been in that situation, I told her, he would have asked the judges for number 12’s phone number. He would insist on calling contestant number 12 to make sure everything was OK and that the contestant would make the chili another time!
Maybe all of us are feeling a bit of uncertainty as we negotiate what another “new normal” looks like. We cannot go back to pre-pandemic times because of the journey we have traveled these past two years. We need to remember that we are companions on the journey, trusting in our God to lead us onward. Trust in God. That is a rule Colin can hold fast.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye@davenportdiocese.org)