Last night, just as I was tucking her in, the teenager in my house said, “Mama, this virus thing could be so much harder for us than it is.”
I sat back for a minute, wondering where her comment had come from, especially when she and I have both had some real difficult days lately when it comes to being physically separated from our people. I looked at her, my head cocked to one side, and said, “Girl. What in the world are you talking about? You and I both have cried at least twice in the last week over all this.”
She laid there quiet for a second, and said, “But mama…some people are losing their jobs. Some people don’t have enough food.”
Some people are losing their jobs. Some people don’t have enough food.
I’ll let you imagine how completely humbled I was at her words, how I just sat there for a minute, stunned at her awareness.
It’s not like I don’t know the truth of her words. It’s not like I don’t read reports of joblessness and hunger every day, along with all the other “virus statistics.” It’s not like I thought her wrong or overly wrought or misinformed. She’s completely right. We know people for whom this virus has meant daily fear about health and financial stability.
She and I might be missing fiercely those we love best, and that might be working on us in some painful ways, but we are, for all practical purposes, okay. And so, so many are not.
Don’t get me wrong, we cannot underestimate the harm that this social distancing is doing to our psyches. A great deal is being studied and written about this, and by folks much smarter than me, but as many of you have heard me say, my own take is that it is damaging our sense of self and our sense of community in ways that will effect long after social distancing guidelines are lifted. A simple example is the panic I felt at the thought of returning to Sunday morning services at my church. I love my church. I love the people there with all my heart. I miss singing and praying with them in very visceral ways. But standing elbow to elbow, air full of shared particles, right now? Um…no, thank you. That I feel this way about a place and a people that mean the world to me breaks my heart.
(SIDENOTE, reader: If you don’t feel as I do, That. Is. Ok. If you and I don’t agree on when and how communities and their economies reopen, That. Is. Ok. I have no agenda here– other than the one I’m about to claim. Ok…read on.)
But the thing is? I have the luxury of this heartache. I have the privilege of tears over missed hugs and missed occasions and missed vacations and missed events. Because I know that I can pay the bills next month and that my belly is more than full.
So I’m about to sing for you a song that you have heard me sing before. And that means maybe I’m singing to the choir here, but just in case, I’ll sing a wee bit louder today so I can be sure those of you in the back, or somebody brand new, can hear me.
Y’all. We have GOT to be better at taking care of each other.
And we have got to do this regardless of how we might agree or disagree, (even if vehemently and with the best of intentions) politically, socioeconomically, or theologically.
We are living in a terrifying and anxiety-producing tension between our physical health, and the state of our communities as determined by functioning economy. And of course these two things are connected. Of course one influences the other. Of course the health of our physical beings relates to the health of our economy and vice versa.
Because we live in an interconnected world. Because we were made for relationship. Because my life depends on the lives of others. Because none of us are islands unto ourselves.
Our refusal to understand this, our insistence upon the myth of complete self-sufficiency, our own beliefs, our own “right” way, is tearing us apart and making us less human being and more ideological minion. To be sure, there is often a clear line between right and wrong, and for me, that line generally gets drawn around treating any life as more important than another–you know, in the spaces where we allow bigotry of any kind to riot and pronounce a person, any person, “less than.” But so much of what I see being argued about in public spaces has nothing to do with real hate and everything to do with ill-informed assumption and a flat-out refusal to listen to anyone who holds a different opinion than we do.
I have a dear clergy friend who is an alcoholic, in recovery now for over a dozen years, and committed to extending the grace of his sobriety by working tirelessly with local recovery communities. I once had a conversation with him about suffering–about what it’s like to spend a night on the kitchen floor, hopeless, tears wracking your body, wondering how you’ll ever be whole again, how you’ll ever find way your way back to life.
He and I have both known such nights, and we love others who have, too. And as we talked about how we walk with one another in those moments, he said (and I am admittedly paraphrasing his gist here), “You know, when you are that low, and someone is willing to come and sit with you in the muck, and maybe even lend a hand so you can begin your climb out of the darkness, you don’t care who they voted for. Or where, or even if, they go to church. Or what their take is on (insert hot topic issue of the day). Or where they live. Or what gender they are or what color their skin is. You’re just glad they came, even if you can’t quite understand how you are worthy of their presence with you.”
Y’all, from where I sit, this is the very heart of what it means to take care of each other. To set aside our arrogance and certainty and mistrust and bias long enough to see that we bleed the very same blood, and are made of the very same God-stuff. We have different stories, some of them too painful to speak. We have different ways of being, some of it beyond understanding to anyone else. Some of us have been bred to hate. Some of us have been gifted love so extravagant we cannot do anything but love in return. Some of us have never known safety. Some of us can face whatever comes precisely because we’ve been held safe our whole lives by someone else’s love. And someone of us have known lives so brutal and terrifying that the only way we know is to exact all that pain on someone else.
And yet, even still, we bleed the very same blood and are made of the very same God-stuff.
We have, in these COVID days, an extraordinary opportunity to set aside the BS and learn the tremendous blessing of serving one another. We have been gifted this moment to care for one another, to share one another’s pain, to offer something out of our own abundance to someone else’s need. To make a few sacrifices so that another person makes it another day. To see past “sides,” and into the common good.
An extraordinary opportunity. It’s really quite simple.
And it isn’t too late to take advantage. Because, as my sweet girl reminded me last night, this is so much harder on some of us than others. And it’s long past time we made conscious effort to take care of one another.
For all our sakes.