In less than four weeks, my allergy to virtual meetings seems to be recovering. I noticed at the end of the Holy Thursday Zoom service that my fever had broken. I wasn’t rushing to click the Leave Meeting button; I was suspended in the moment, sitting quietly with my fellow Zoomers as the final image of the bare altar was projected onto the screen.
After decades of exhausting corporate collaboration across far too many time-zones and cultures, I really didn’t care if I ever participated in a Zoom, Webex, Skype or any other flavor of cool connectivity tool ever again. When I retired I took off my “Queen of Virtual Meetings” crown – yes, that was my nickname! I was done with that.
And then along came the Coronavirus, and self-isolation and “Stay At Home” orders. My beautiful retired world switched to Zoom overnight. I felt like I was right back at work and not happy about.
But this Holy Thursday Zoom service was a pivotal moment. It mirrored my 4-stage transformation over the past 4 weeks of social distancing. This is my more sober variation on Jimmy Kimmel’s 5-stages of the Coronavirus.
I started out the appointed hour Thursday evening feeling rushed. This was an imposition on the well worn groove of our new evening sequence of activities. I pull myself away from that cozy, dull routine to power-up, login, put on headset, connect audio & video. By the time I’ve reconnected three times due to dropped internet and cursing AT&T, I’m feeling irritated as well as imposed upon. As others join and I try to assist them in finding the video, or the Chat, or getting them to show their face instead of the ceiling or feet. It’s like teaching someone to drive blind. Now I’m frustrated too. What am I doing here?
That describes my Week One in isolation with Zoom. Not these meetings again? I just want to be with people face-to-face. I’m feeling imposed upon, irritated and annoyed at having regressed to living my days out in online bubbles.
As everyone gets connected, the smiles, laughter and sense of joy start to percolate through the bumpy start. Most are happier to see each other, to reconnect, than they are worried about any earthly technical nuisances. That has a calming effect on me. I can see the value in this. Look at their faces. Nevertheless, I’m still hovering around the edges trying to push for more efficient tool usage. Getting everyone to use this feature, or that feature. Pushing for deeper functionality usage rather than deeper connections. These are, after all, the same thing for a techy.
That describes my Week Two in isolation with Zoom. The annoyed expert and even more annoying know-it-all. Once pressed into service, wanting it to be technically flawless and technically exquisite.
Then the service starts, someone else takes control. My “co-hosting” role is removed – both literally and figuratively. They’ve created new ways to transform this corporate tool into an experience that might also touch our hearts. I trust these leaders, so I sit back and watch. All the while carefully taking note, ready to catch them if they fall, willing them to succeed.
That describes my Week Three in isolation with Zoom. No longer “Queen of Virtual Meetings” , it’s like being past president on a committee. You feel like you still have a stake in the success of the outcome. You’re torn about no longer being in charge; partly relieved and partly missing being in the center of all the action. Overall you’re happy to be on the sidelines.
Then the service moves into the meditation of Jesus washing out feet (since we’re not doing virtual feet washing) and I’m transported. I’m no longer in a Zoom call in 2020 during a pandemic, rather I’m at the Last Supper with Jesus over 2,000 years ago. I’m fully engaged in the service, immersed in this bubble of time and space. I’m connected to my spiritual community a way that feels even more proximate, more tangible and more real than sitting next to each other in the pews at church. It’s unexpected. How did they do this?
This experience transcends technology. I’m stunned. I’m deeply moved.
That describes my Week Four in isolation with Zoom. The corporateness has evaporated. These Zoom calls have lost their straight-jacket dimension. They’ve gone from life-draining to life-giving. It’s a tectonic shift.
Zoom is no longer about a corporate technology – I am indeed done with that. Rather, it’s become a rich, multi-dimensional life-line. I’m grateful. I’m finally onboard!
[Special recognition to Rev. David Wantland, Roger Hutchison, and Dustin Jesudason for their creative re-imagining of our Holy Week at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in this time of social distancing. It’s been powerful and memorable!]