Some days I wake up and wonder if I dreamt the whole thing: That a pandemic runs rampant all around the globe, grounding entire countries and economies to a halt, emptying streets and restaurants, buses and trains and airplanes, schools and universities and theaters and houses of worship. All shut down. That this sneaky, voracious virus infects millions of people and kills thousands. That doctors and scientists and heads of state all around the world scramble in a desperate attempt to halt its spread and bring it under control.
Do you ever have that sensation too? That we’re living in some kind of alternate reality?
The actual reality is most of us right now are shuttered behind closed doors, struggling to stay sane, to keep ourselves and our families healthy and intact. We remain indoors not only for our own sake, but for the wellbeing of our communities and nations.
Others are battling on the frontlines, fighting for humanity: Doctors, nurses, lab technicians, factory workers assembling ventilators and other crucial equipment, truck drivers, pilots, bus and taxi drivers, train operators, supermarket workers, farmworkers, firefighters, police officers, garbage collectors, postal service workers, food and package delivery workers, petrol station attendants, and countless other groups of people who risk their lives daily to ensure that life goes on.
And there are those of us who must struggle for survival in a world turned even more precarious than before: street vendors whose entire livelihoods rely on sales of food and goods; residents of townships and informal communities who can’t follow the guidelines for protection from the virus, who can’t practice social distancing or hand-washing, because their surroundings don’t allow for it; women and children in lockdown with their abusers; people with disabilities and the elderly living alone; the millions who find themselves without a job and income, and those whose businesses will be forced to close; homeless people. And so many others.
The pain of this pandemic is very, very real. It touches every single facet of our life, our planet, our human existence.
The opportunity is also very real. Disasters of this sort have a way of stripping us bare and removing our defenses. The invisible becomes glaringly visible, and suddenly we can see what we’ve kept hidden. Have you witnessed the clear skies and cleaner rivers? Have you noticed an extra layer of kindness and goodwill among fellow humans? Have you paid closer attention to your family and been surprised at what you see? Have you discovered aspects of yourself that you’ve been too distracted to notice before now? Have you been struck by just how intertwined and interconnected we are, how many people it takes to keep you fed and our society running? How will you respond?
There’s a passage in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) that says,
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We have been given an unprecedented opportunity, individually and collectively, to recalibrate, to reset our attitudes and behavior, to realign our priorities.
To choose life.
To choose life for our oceans and skies, forests and animals. For the elderly and disabled, and those struggling to put food on the table. For the teachers and caregivers, migrants and refugees. For the guy who cuts our grass and keeps our yard tidy and clean, and the lady who cleans our home and looks after our children. For our parents and children, friends, colleagues and co-workers. For ourselves.
How will you respond?