“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” (From “If” by Rudyard Kipling)
Crisis times tend to reveal those who keep their heads and those who don’t. September 11, 2001 was one of those times. I clearly remember being in a 57-story building, needing to make decisions that affected others and observing the behavior of many of those same people as they waited to be told what they could do, and once they were told, how they went about it. I recall the sense of panic in the city streets as congested traffic was ignoring standard rules of the road, like stopping at red lights or yielding to pedestrians. I imagine the destruction of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was similar in its impact on how folks behaved. Some folks just lose it!
Covid-19 or Coronavirus has the same potential as it spreads here in the US and in the vicinity where I live. Asia and Western Europe has been where we in this country are headed, and I’m sure people in those locales have stories to tell of how others have reacted well or maybe not so well. On this side of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, I’ve heard stories of racist comments being made against Asians as a group and blame placed on immigrants. A man on a New York subway train (underground or metro for my non-USA readers) was caught on camera spraying another passenger with FabrezeTM,an odor eliminator. Some have hoarded hand sanitizers and marked the prices up several hundred-fold for resale in order to profit financially off of misfortune (ah, the love of money!). These are expressions of hatred, or at the very least callous disregard.
Howard Thurman, someone I’ve been reading lately, says that “hatred is something of which to be ashamed unless it provides for us a form of validation and prestige. If either is provided, then the immoral or amoral character [of hatred] is transformed into positive violence.”* We’ve seen this too many times in history not to know that these are true statements. Devaluing, discounting and attacking others verbally or physically for the sake of self (even perceived self-protection) are forms of violence. If Covid-19 turns out to be just one of several societal stressors (say, wars, rumors of wars, and natural disasters in diverse places as examples), what do we have to look for to from our neighbors…and what do they have to look forward from us?
Several days ago, something (I can’t recall what) led me to revisit Paul’s charge to Timothy as he (Paul) was anticipating his death, “Keep your head in all situations…” (2 Timothy 4:5). Trying times requires people who will keep their heads. There is a fair chance that someone we know, someone in our extended circle will get sick with Coronavirus. It may even be us. We need to be wise and use good discretion in our personal and communal responses to Covid-19, but our responses should never be an excuse not to be loving and compassionate. And in case we need reminding, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant” (Gal.6:7, NLT).
* Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, p.65.
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