We are at a point where things are radically changed. The Coronavirus has circled the globe and encamps near us. Neither border wall nor wishing it away avails. There is a tendency, indeed, a spas- modic reaction by so many of us, to shrink in terror and to feel the ultimate human panic—that each of us is grimly alone and forsaken. So much political machination is built upon this fear, encouraging us to join a gang or a tribe or a nation to help us forget this apparently inevitable fate. Did not the goddess abandon Hector before the menacing Achilles? “It’s all over, man!” echoes back from the terrify- ing scene in the sci-fi classic Alien. Nor has anyone’s fear been relieved by the incompetent farce played out in Washington by twits and tweets. Is there anything more we can do other than washing and wringing our hands?
Right now is the moment to remem- ber who we are and who we can be. Even as the tremors of climate change are dampened by this near and present threat, it is time to take a deep breath and to look around. It is time to recognize that our world is not shrinking, even as our life is imperiled. Indeed, particularly the so-called best and brightest, who can only imagine scarce resources, end up making stupid decisions. Let us see if we have any room to maneuver.
Instead of succumbing to the fate of limited options, let us begin recalling what we tend to forget. Let us re- member how we arrived on this planet. Go back to your birth, even before that, to that swirling echo chamber of your mother’s womb. You heard the low wail of her voice through the amniotic fluid, you developed the inklings of brain connections as you practiced your soccer kicks. And then came that forced press into something you had never experienced, light and unmuffled sounds. As you grew in fits and starts, you began to realize you were not alone. And in the wondrous bewilderment the sounds and sights be- gan to take on meaning.
The son of Mariam urged us not to give up, nor to simply push back, but to find another way to creatively respond and figure out how we can trust one another, even the enemy.
Or consider what happened just over fifty years ago. The entire world did not just gaze at the moon but was fixed on that capsule circling it and that landing craft set- ting down on the Sea of Tranquility. Such a moment re- vealed what the dueling political systems of the period tried to cover up: a recognition that we were all together on this dear blue marble.
How many of us can forget those tumultuous moments of 9/11 when first responders ran into smolder- ing buildings? And even in the aftermath of the towers’ collapse resolute hands picked through the rubble. Before politicians found their voices and blowhorns, turning all into a causa belli, thousands of unsung citizens discovered the ground zero of our democracy—the contagion of com- passion that reached even the streets of Teheran.
But, as the news and alarms continue to pulverize us 24/7, we stagger from the constant information over- load. Our balance is interrupted. An incessant rush of nonsense and advice, updates and internet gossip, contracts our line of sight. When we seek out sup- plies, we are stunned at how soon hand- wipes and dispensers, toilet paper, water, and face masks become scarce and are often bought at a premium. Panic stalks through supermarkets and hardware stores. People seem to be “looking out for themselves,” keeping their heads down and getting out as fast as possible.
Yet is this all we are?
I think we know that there is more to us than that. I know personally how medi- cal professionals are forming emergency response teams, how thousands of nerds are linking up worldwide with departments of science to work out the possible responses to the virus, how organi- zations are placing the greater good over their programs and profits. Yes, we are scared. We fear death, and perhaps, worse, the loss of those we hold most dear.
But this crisis has brought us all to the edge of things. And in a crisis we find out that we did not create our situ- ation but that we can choose to respond and not simply to react. This was, in fact, the advice of that peasant artisan who long ago challenged us “not to react on the same level to that which threatens” (a more literal translation of Matt 5:39). That son of Mariam urged us not to give up, nor to simply push back, but to find another way to creatively respond and figure out how we can trust one another, even the enemy. He trusted that reality was not a zero-sum