It began as a game for the day, where we were to write things we've learned in these three and a half months of isolation here in Maryland.

 There's a warm setting for preparing bread on my oven. There's a towel setting on my dryer. There's a way to reset the dish washer after it starts. I should really read the directions on my appliances.

I can make dinner from frozen peas, vegetable pasta, leafy greens and any protein that's defrosted...and sometimes, it isn't defrosted. Breakfast is whatever you're willing to eat. Lunch is a sometimes meal because no one wants to clean up after it.

Baking is a therapy. Everyone complains that we're eating too many sweets until we don't make dessert.

No one actually wants to spend the whole day looking at a screen but no one wants to be reminded that they're spending a whole day looking at screens.

I don't want to clean the house now that I have time. I didn't want to clean the house when I didn't have time. When the kids clean, they want credit, praise and a standing order indicating that since they cleaned, they need not lift a finger for the next solar year. When I don't clean, I'm not sure what to make of the fact that no one notices.

We are more self stoppers than self starters, and we miss all the distractions a busy life allows. We're also more about explaining how everyone else is wrong, than standing up only for what is right. It's easier to point out other people's splinters and planks than to notice our own or do something about them. 

We don't have a fence around our yard, but we all have invisible fences even inside the house. We've spent 117 days learning that we weren't as close as we thought, and not as connected as we presumed, both as families and as a nation. Proximity does not mean intimacy, it pretends that it does, until reality strips it away to reveal what it isn't. We've had lots of worldly examples to strip away the pretense.   We wear masks to cover our breath, to prevent disease when we go out, and reveal our true faces online by our words and our silence.

So how do we go from being a cluster to a community, from Facebook to fellowship?  We begin in all the little ways that require something of us beyond serving us.  Love is sacrifice of one's own comforts for another, to will their good first. We don't want those fences anywhere and we don't want the masks that cover our hearts anymore either. We want authentic reasons to celebrate, and sometimes they come from figuring out an appliance, and sometimes, from the accidental real connection in the midst of a meal or a disaster, between souls that should be more connected than proximity, whether online or in real life. 

Grace breaks in even when we shut the world out, and that is the most encouraging thing there is to know about life in the time of a pandemic.

 We are learning to recognize people by their eyes, and to notice more of what we can see, than when we could see each others' faces fully before. 

We are grateful to notice someone we recognize when it happens and it was unplanned. We are grateful for all the unplanned moments, almost desperate for them as a break from the ordinary that is so very ordinary.

The proof is in the warmness of the towels and the hearts, the rising of the spirits and the bread, and the beauty that shines through the chaos of the house that has hearts without fences.  

The fruit is in the full pantries for distribution, and the visible joy we feel when there are 50 people at the Mass and all those we know who want to be there but can't, that we're praying with and for.   

Finally, the promise of what we're all doing, starting to do, striving to do, is in the smiles we can't see but know are there, from all of Heaven, who wait in joyful hope for our eventual arrival.  

(Sherry Antonetti writes a regular column for the Catholic Standard. She is the author of The Book of Helen, a freelancer and a blogger @Chocolate For Your Brain!)