Meditation on a Pandemic

I write this from New Jersey, USA, where we’ve been under a state of emergency since March 6th due to the covid-19 pandemic. I would have thought that being mostly stuck in the house would have given me more time to accomplish things: such as teaching myself the ukulele, composing music, or writing more articles for this blog. However, for reasons I won’t go into here, I spend most of my time taking care of my autistic son—being his tutor at home, making sure he is fed, happy, entertained, etc. And there are lots of times when I feel overwhelmed by his needs, the needs of my “family” both in person and through social media, the destruction of my sleeping cycle into 1-2hr naps, the time-consuming restrictions, and limitations on shopping that have me running to stand on line at 6:30 AM at the local supermarket so I can get my major supplies for the week, or serving as “technical support” to keep people’s computers and Internet running during this crisis. So, much of the time I feel exhausted just want to crash.

I’m telling you this here, not to complain, or make myself seem like a martyr.  Because, let’s get to the root of why I, and millions like me, do these things.  Why do doctors, nurses, social workers, policemen and all the “essential” workers who have the reality of the sick and dying of this disease shoved into their faces every day to the point of their own burnout and despair manage to get up the next day and do it again?   Survival and government aside, why do we do this day and day with no particular end date in sight?  The cynic would say “because you have to.”  But that’s not it. 

We do it out of love.  We get up every morning and face this grind because of love.  Because these lives that are intertwined with our own have meaning and worth to us.  Because we see ourselves reflected back through them.  When I see my son smile at me, it’s like the face of God looking at me. 

Catastrophe brings out the worst and the best of our human nature.  There are some who believe that we are just selfish animals, fighting for survival and the other be damned. These are the sort of people who believe that their “rights” are more important than others and their wants and “needs” are sacrosanct. They would place themselves at the top of humanity—and if others are made ill or die as a result, well so be it[1]. As I write this, there are people being killed over whether a store has the right to enforce the wearing of a face mask.  There are people screaming that restrictions should be lifted because they want to get their hair dyed, or they are missing their Botox shot—and if others are made ill because of that, that’s just too bad.  Let us say that they succeed in recreating a world in their image.  What kind of a world is that?  Is that the mad existence that defines humanity? Are we really no better than dung beetles fighting over a bit of feces?

But there is something greater in each of us: our sense of altruism and self-sacrifice.  We make the choice minute by minute, second by second, to define who and what we are. We do it because we see the spirit of God in each of us.  This is what the great spiritual leaders such as Jesus recognized: we carry God—whatever we ultimately conceive of God to be—within our hearts and spirits.  When we look at each other pass politics, fear, and stereotyping, we see the face of God looking back.

God is not going to come down from the skies, wave His/Her/Its/? “arms” and save us from the virus.  It didn’t happen during the Black Plague, it didn’t happen during the Spanish Flu, and it won’t happen now.  We will.  Together.  Not pointing fingers at each other searching for who to blame.  But together working to stop this, recognizing that each life is valuable and equally worthy of being lived.

[1] Just to be clear.  I am not negating the fear and worry about the loss of income that so many are experiencing.  This unprecedented destruction of our economies and the suffering of so many says more about the flimsy nature and evils of an economic system that ultimately treats people as means to an end, rather than an end in themselves.  Perhaps after this crisis, we will finally begin to realize that this must change.