On one hand, there is so much being said right now about the coronavirus pandemic that it seems almost pointless to add more words to the swirling conversation.
On the other hand, as an ordinary person (with no medical expertise, manufacturing equipment, or deep pockets at my disposal) who also happens to be a poet, one of the few things I have to offer to my fellow humans at this point is a handful of rudimentary reflections on some of the social possibilities that accompany this health crisis.
Reports of two extreme responses—1) total nonchalance/disregard for recommended (or mandated) measures to safeguard individual and community health, and 2) a kind of knee-jerk panic that can bring with it racism/scapegoating and selfish hoarding of resources—concern, sadden and anger me deeply. It is my hope and prayer that we can find common ground somewhere between these poles, and that even though we’ll need to stand six feet apart in that arena, we will find ways to care for one another and will experience a deep sense of peace and well-being (the “shalom” of the Old Testament) as we focus not just on our own needs, but also on the needs of those around us—especially those most at risk for medical, financial, and other forms of hardship.
To those—and there are many—who have already staked out spots in this community-minded space, thank you for your caring service and your inspiring example!
COVID-19 and the Pursuit of Shalom
Is this the leprosy of our day—
the dread disease that makes us regard one another
with suspicion and fear,
speculating that each person we encounter
could be “unclean”?
Will we, like self-protective religious elite on the Jericho Road,
go out of our way to maximize the literal and metaphorical spaces
between ourselves & others,
hurrying past suffering strangers with a glaring absence
of compassion or concern,
or will we, even while taking care to conscientiously observe
prescribed measures of social distance,
seek out methods to soften the separation—
a smile, a nod,
a brief exchange of conversational grace,
an offer to help in whatever ways remain within our power—
remembering that despite those differences
that have divided us in the past—
and may yet cause disagreement in the future—
we have at least this much in common:
that, more evidently than even before,
our own well-being—
indeed, our very survival—
depends on the health and safety of those,
known and unknown,
with whom we share our corners of the world?