Ports-of-call on an unforgettable cruise | Greg Asimakoupoulos

COVID was like a cruise on the open sea fraught with rogue waves and gale-force winds.

I retired from my dream job a few weeks ago. Because the past decade has been like a non-stop vacation, my favorite attire for going to work was an aloha shirt. Those ten trips around the sun have left me with precious memories in the photo album of my mind.

While cleaning out my office, I came across a miniature suitcase on a bookshelf. That tiny piece of luggage was scaled to the American Girl dolls my kids used to play with. It was covered with decals and stickers denoting various ports-of-call. I purchased it in a local thrift store as an object lesson for one of my sermons during the coronavirus outbreak. I glued another decal on the suitcase that simply said COVID-19. It was my less-than-subtle way of illustrating that the global pandemic had taken us on a cruise we’d not soon (if ever) forget.

Although memorable, COVID was a far cry from any tropical trip to the “land of aloha.” It resembled more of a non-stop nightmare than a dream vacation. It was like a cruise on the open sea fraught with rogue waves and gale-force winds. Still, that journey we traveled together provided us with a few ports-of-call worthy of remembering.

The first port-of-call was called sheltering-in-place. It was a place we’d not visited previously. We were forced to stay home and stay put. Initially, it felt like being imprisoned. But mandated lockdowns found us taking stock of the value of what we’d previously taken for granted. We realized how very precious our family members were to us. Having extended time with our spouse and children allowed us the means to focus on their hopes and fears and make note of how the pandemic was impacting them.

Staying at home also caused us to realize how much we enjoyed those with whom we work each day from whom we were temporarily separated. We also acknowledged how much we appreciated the freedom to come and go to our jobs and to the grocery store and to the mall. And even though working from home had its challenges, the flexibility proved meaningful.

Another port-of-call was called the mask mandate. Wearing a cloth or paper mask served as a badge of belonging. It was a means by which we were reminded we were in this fight together. The face mask was a visual aid calling to mind our common humanity. Each of us was affected by an invisible enemy. Each of us was vulnerable. And the mask served to remind us of our need to take precautions for our personal hygiene. Putting on a mask was a prompt to use hand sanitizer as well as to wash our hands (for the length of time it took to sing the Happy Birthday song or the Doxology).

Even though wearing a mask was a nuisance and although we grew weary of staying six feet apart from one another in a public setting, the imposed requirements kept us from becoming apathetic in the face of a virus that took an incalculable toll on people we loved. Masks encouraged us to be alert and take preventative measures for our well-being.

A third port-of-call was called virtual communication. We went ashore with laptops and smartphones in hand. We were tourists in a totally new territory “zooming” here and there and everywhere. We learned how to “do church” while sipping coffee at home in our recliners. We helped our children go to school while sitting at the kitchen table. We Facetimed with family members we couldn’t see because of travel restrictions. Microsoft Teams allowed us to both work and worship from home. Virtual meetings became the norm. We did book clubs and prayer groups and choir practice navigating those little squares on our computer screen. Participation from those around-the-world became a possibility unlike any previous time.

Yes, it’s true. The ports-of-call on cruise for which we didn’t sign up proved to be blessings in disguise. And looking back on that unforgettable journey we call COVID, I think we can honestly say we are grateful for having been there and are better off because of it.

Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is a former chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.