At the intersection of coronavirus and public health and safety, March 19 marked a surreal turning point for Californians faced with a “stay at home” order to curb the pandemic’s spread. Like millions across the state, Kevin O’Brien, a 40-year staffer at the Diocese of Sacramento’s Pastoral Center, took his work home, converted his dining room table to a makeshift office and embarked on an indefinite digital journey of “presence” though physically separated from the workplace.
“It surely is a strange phenomenon,” Kevin admits, talking on a cloud-based “softphone” downloaded to his laptop. “I can work on all my systems and get into everything I need from any device from pretty much anywhere,” the tech expert reveals, although acknowledging how COVID-19 collided with a significant technology transition and an already-ramped-up workload.
As the information technology network administrator and architect, Kevin connects employees at the Pastoral Center and Catholic cemeteries with vital technology services so they can do their jobs. He also assists parishes and affiliated organizations as needed. Now he answers the daily need to accommodate co-workers in their new remote work worlds. And the technology transition also remains underway. From a distance.
“Ten years ago,” Kevin hesitates and asks, “would we have been able to do this as successfully?” He answers himself quickly with a definitive “no.” He continues to explain how the move to newer technologies had not yet occurred. It would have been a “real challenge” to switch to a remote work force then, but in 2020 he thinks it happened almost seamlessly.
Pondering grace in this fortuitous techno-readiness, Kevin shares, “I occasionally vacate to the back garden, which is actually a pleasure!” He relishes his garden setting amid a sea of worries; a sea he easily calms by reflecting on his blessings.
“I’ve been anxious, as everyone has, about this situation,” he confides, pointing to faith and family as sources of solace, perspective and hope. He recalls Lent as having been “very different,” prompting a deeper awareness of mortality and spirituality.
Kevin turns to the monthly spiritual guide “Magnificat” for readings and prayers. He says the routine has been more regular and comforting at home conceding that before, he easily could “get busy doing other things.” Now he might sit in his garden at the end of the day and take time to reflect.
Kevin’s children are obvious sources of joy. Aidan, 16, Callan, 13 and Anna, 8, “seem to take it all in stride,” he says, but also knows their new normal of distance learning and isolation from friends and sports affects them in ways unknown. All three engage in online Zoom meetings for school, and the boys even manage remote piano lessons with their teacher.
“They seem pretty resilient,” Kevin says, ever grateful that they love each other and get along so well. “Even though we’re all kind of piled on top of each other here together, the fact that they have someone to be piled in together with is actually helpful.” Kevin recognizes viewing the siblings’ companionship as a gift as he and his wife also must balance work obligations.
Kevin’s wife, Susan, owns The Kitchen Table shop on Folsom Boulevard in east Sacramento. Home in the morning helping with their third-grade daughter’s schoolwork, she heads to the store in the afternoon. Recently marking the two-year anniversary of the store opening, Susan remains diligent in reinventing the business in an eerie climate of mostly-closed retailers.
Formerly a practicing psychologist, Susan dreamed of a store to celebrate food, family, creativity and beauty at home in the kitchen. Within weeks she transformed her dream to a mission. She developed an online shopping cart, instituted personal Face Time shopping, and adjusted to curbside pick-up or home delivery offering a remedy of sorts for pent up shoppers seeking inspiration.
“The boys have been going over and helping fill orders,” Kevin says, thrilled at new opportunities for family support and togetherness. He laughs at how much more the kids are “cooking, cleaning and helping at the shop!”
Members of Holy Spirit Parish in Sacramento, Kevin appreciates the recorded Mass on Sunday. “It’s helpful,” he offers, inferring that peace comes from seeing the church and listening with his family. “It’s not quite like we’re in church,” he quips, acknowledging that “they’re still in their pajamas and we’re all around the TV watching!”
Blessings, indeed. Yet, Kevin openly expresses how much he misses his friends and community – church, workplace and neighbors. “I am a bit of a raconteur,” he says, longing to simply chat, visit and share stories. Until then, he will be at his dining room table with a few garden breaks, working away.