“Unprecedented” is often a word that’s overused; we see it when an auto dealer is offering “once in a lifetime” deals on cars or other similar advertisements. But these are truly unprecedented times. This is a kind of emergency that most of us have never seen before; for us New Englanders it feels something like a snow storm or a hurricane, but on steroids. Folks who lived during the Great Depression or went through the rationing in World War II are perhaps the only ones who have a real life comparison.
Reactions have varied; some have emptied grocery store shelves to hoard hand sanitizer — don’t they realize that it only helps if we ALL use it? And, what’s with the toilet paper? I don’t get it, no one seems to, and I don’t even want to speculate. Times like these seem to bring out either the worst or the best in people.
We have heard some new buzz words and phrases like social distancing, and abundance of caution. I’ve co-opted the latter for our church with a bit of a twist; what we really need at a time like this, more than anything else is an abundance of caring. Social distancing — sure keep our distance to prevent the spread of this virus. Abundance of caution — let’s be cautious and do everything we can to stop the spread of this virus. But ultimately, what we all need at times like this is an abundance of caring. Caring for ourselves and the ones we love, an abundance of caring for everyone. This virus doesn’t respect boundaries or know borders; it affects everyone, and especially those who are most vulnerable. But, that doesn’t stop us from caring for one another, in fact, now is a time for an abundance of caring.
The last time many of us can remember seeing caring in abundance was in the days following 9/11. We saw people opening doors and waving cars ahead at intersections; there was a sense that we were all victims of a common enemy. This time the enemy is an invisible, insidious virus, and our response could be the same. When Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the only thing to fear is fear itself he recognized the potential of panic. The focus of panic is self-preservation at all costs, and so much of what we are seeing in our health care professionals and public servants is exactly the opposite. Their abundance of caring in this pandemic is inspiring. As a person of faith it turns my focus to the core of all faiths, abundance of caring for others as a response to God’s abundance of caring for us.
If there’s one thing we all can learn from this crisis, it is how much we share in common, and how silly the things are that separate us. Perhaps we need to rephrase “social distancing” and call it “physical distancing,” for if anything we need to be more connected socially. We should be ignoring the superficial categories that divide us, and connect on how our common humanity brings us together. The last big virus I remember was the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s, and talk about social distancing, our gay brothers were completely ostracized and demonized by what many dubbed as the “gay disease” or “gay-related immune deficiency.” It’s interesting that Dr. Fauci, that familiar, steady doctor giving us factual updates on the coronavirus, was also the one who helped our government and all of us understand the HIV virus during that crisis. Suggestions of renaming COVID-19 as the “Chinese” virus smack of the same old motive of prejudice and blame. Thankfully Tony Fauci is still there!
A common enemy like this virus can divide us or unite us. We may not have a vaccine, but we all can do our best to protect one another. When we each look for guidance from our respective faiths, the answer is clear: as God’s children we are in this together. So while we are relegated to our separate physical spaces this is an opportunity to expand our social connections. Let’s slow down, take a few deep, thankful breaths and come through this together with an abundance of caring.
The Rev. Michael J. Duda is a resident of Rockport and pastor of First Church in Wenham.