08/20/2020 The Third Quarter – By Pastor Katie

It wasn’t the pressing school decisions or the ‘back to school’ displays in stores. It wasn’t the primary elections or fall planning meetings. It wasn’t the cool mornings that warm up to a late-summer day. Nope, these weren’t the thing that set me over the edge feeling like we’re hurtling towards fall with no end in sight.
It was the tree, you know the one, the tree in the neighborhood that always starts changing colors before the rest. The first herald that fall, then winter, is truly coming.
I stared at the tree in exasperated disbelief, how could it possibly be changing already?! It was only August 1st! The trees and flowers hadn’t bloomed when the world turned upside down.
I remember watching intently for spring to arrive while we stayed safer at home. A late-spring snowstorm covered the tulips pushing their way towards warmer days. Then everything bloomed, and the grass turned green.
We spent as much time outside as we could. We bought a splash pad for water fun at home. We celebrated the summer birthdays, watched fireworks on the Fourth, and lost track of summer in the time warp that is the Time of Covid.
I had a conversation recently with a colleague about the ups and downs, successes and growing moments (aka missteps) of pastoring in a global pandemic, something none of us have ever done.
“I had no idea the pandemic was going to last for so long,” they said.
When we suspended in-person indoor worship in mid-March, we didn’t realize we’d be moving towards fall with the pandemic still raging and no end in sight.
We’re collectively running into a wall.
Covid fatigue is real.
We can only operate in pandemic stress induced adrenaline for so long. We’re facing trauma on top of trauma; the layers of unrest, inequality and grief are being pulled back to reveal only more hardship.
Maybe the phenomenon we’re experiencing is the dreaded third quarter.
Back at the end of April, in the Young Clergy Women International Facebook group, a leader from Australia posted an article called “We have begun the dreaded third quarter of isolation, when – yes – things get weird.” It was my clergy colleagues in Australia who first sounded the Covid-19 alarm for me and so I immediately read the article.
At the time, they were ahead of us in how long they had been staying at home and social distancing. Honestly, April and May weren’t terrible for me and my family as we enjoyed time together, slower schedules, and warmer weather.
Then the tree happened, the one that started turning red already. That’s when the despair at how long it has really been and how long it will likely be set in. So, I returned to that article. A few days later, my New York Times daily briefing linked to the opinion piece, “We’ve Hit a Pandemic Wall.”
“It’s not just me!” was my first thought, quickly followed by and inaudible groan…
The Third Quarter comes from studies done on people isolated in submarines, space stations, and polar bunkers in Antarctica. Researchers have seen that there is an inflection point, where frustration goes up and it is all harder to bear.
We went through the panic buying and confusion period, then we settled into the honeymoon where it was new, different, and a welcome change to stay home.
Now, we’re over it. “Psychologically, we’re ‘over’ COVID-19, but the virus is still raging,” said Nancy Berlinger of The Hastings Center back in May on a seminar I virtually attended.
For me, and my family, summer has lessened our tensions and made it easier to bear, we can go on walks and bikes rides, we get out the splash pad and sprinkler. We’ve found was to divert our pent up energy and socialize safely.
That tree has started changing, the bright red leaves remind me fall is around the corner, and, inevitably, winter.
I’m trying to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepare myself for this winter, likely a long, hard winter in this strange, upended year.
Both of the articles encourage us to seek help from professionals when we need it, and to reach out for connection with our friends and family.
“Anybody who is experiencing anything difficult is a normal reaction to an abnormal environment”
– Dr. Norris, “The Dreaded Third Quarter”
Those who have studied the Third Quarter phenomenon say that it is not all bad news, and “many people who have experienced isolation want to do it a second time.” (Dr. Norris, “The Dreaded Third Quarter”)
I find comfort in the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians:
“We do not want you to be unware, brothers and sisters of the affliction we
experienced…for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life
itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would
rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
If you need help, please reach out, know you are not alone, and you are loved.
Pastor Katie

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