(Courtesy of On the Grid)

The ongoing public health crisis has forced many American to abandon or “pause” long-standing rituals and major life events. Weddings postponed. Family vacations cancelled. Graduations held virtually. Such benchmarks and shared celebrations shape and provide meaning to our lives. Now, we find them transformed or lost altogether. 

At the same time, our daily rituals–actions and happenings to which we seldom give a thought–have suffered a similar fate. We’re not chatting with a co-worker during a morning coffee break. We’re not lingering in our neighborhood park. We’re not meeting a friend for a Friday night beer.

In a recent New York Times health column, Jane Brody wrote about the power and importance–physical, mental, and even imaginative–of small social connections and interactions. This would be our daily or regular encounters with people tangential to our lives or even familiar strangers. Think your barber or dry cleaner. Brody describes the value of such individuals:

“Consequential strangers anchor us in the world and give us a sense of being plugged into something larger. They also enhance and enrich our lives and offer us opportunities for novel experiences and information that is beyond the purview of our inner circles.”

Although Brody emphasized the necessity of weak ties, her reasoning supports a different, yet parallel statement: small moments carry just as much meaning and relevance to our individual and communal identities as the “big” life moments. Think about it: what might you miss most right now? Your lunchtime walk in the park? Bumping into a friend in your favorite cafe? A quiet afternoon in a museum? All small moments. 

Since the pandemic began, my wife and I have attended Fr. Jim McDermott’s weekly Mass on his Facebook page. (Father Jim is a Jesuit priest, a contributor to Sapientia, and a friend of the CRC.) This past Sunday, Father Jim celebrated the Assumption of Mary. He presented Mary’s life as evidence that an everyday person (or action, ritual, or duty) provides the ballast for the wondrous or miraculous.         

On the Saturday before Father Jim’s Mass (and coincidentally on the Feast Day itself), my wife and I spent the evening with two good friends, talking over drinks until well past midnight. (Yes, we were social distancing and we brought our own food and beverages.) For a few hours, we forgot about the pandemic, the presidential election, and the increasingly fragile state of our society. 

A night shared with friends–this small moment–left us feeling refreshed, buoyed, and happy. Pre-COVID, such an evening would be nothing more than ordinary. Right now, we need the ordinary. Right now, the ordinary hints at the miraculous.  

David Goodwin is an urban historian, author, and Assistant Director of the Center on Religion and Culture.