Lessons from the coronavirus pandemic — Part 2


Lessons from the coronavirus pandemic — Part 2


Wednesday, April 01, 2020

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Apart from the value of family, we are seeing in no uncertain terms that no person is sufficient to himself or herself, and that each person's welfare is indeed my own. We say these things glibly or when we are in a philosophical state of mind, but never before in recent history has it become clear that we are living in an interconnected world and that what can affect people in nondescript areas of the world can become, in a short time, an existential threat to human life anywhere on the planet.

This stark reality is perhaps the most objective aspect of this crisis. It affects anyone who dares to come within its reach. It does not matter whether you are peon, pope, peasant, prime minister, or heir apparent to a monarchical dynasty. I suspect that, in a bizarre way, people are beginning to realise that there are far more enduring virtues that define us than our wealth or the power and influence we exercise. That indeed when it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, we are all common in our humanity and the fragility that defines it.

I do not know how much I should hold out investing in hope that humility should be an enduring characteristic of this pandemic. Or whether we will not resort to our own ways of trampling on each other once the threat subsides. To what extent will we come to a new appreciation of the worth of the other individual and realise that indeed we are our brother's and sister's keeper. For in this virus we are facing a tremendous test of our humanity and sense of human kindness that we have never experienced in recent memory. It is a test of our neighbourliness, as we realise how quickly we can be brought to our knees by an invisible enemy. It is the realisation that to bring this virus under control, and return to some sense of global normalcy, it will take the collective will of the entire human race on this planet to accomplish it.

Human kindness and concern for the neighbour are no longer esoteric or abstract concepts by religious fanatics or demented philosophers. All of a sudden they have become tools for survival as we see that the other person's welfare is bound up in ours. We have to take time to be kind to someone; to not cough in his presence. If you have two sanitisers and your neighbour has none it is in your best interest, and that of your family, to give one to someone who does not have. And it does not matter how the person looks, his ethnicity, or station in life; that little act of kindness can be helpful to a Prince Philip or a Boris Johnson as it would to a taxi cab driver or a farmer trying to grow crops on an arid landscape.

Great gems of human kindness appear all over the world of people helping each other to get through this. A lady told a story about going to the grocery store and seeing two elderly people in their car who were fearful to go inside since their population was adjudged to be particularly vulnerable to the virus. They asked her to purchase their grocery from a list. She did this gladly and welled up in emotion when she was retelling the story.

I am sure that stories like this are happening all over the world. This is not a time for selfishness or hoarding, but for sharing. The virus has done a significant thing: It has forced us to realise how much we are dependent on each other; that indeed no person is an island, however much there are those who would wish to separate themselves from the rest of humanity and live like islands within their own restless world of ennui.

A third lesson, among the many others we could reflect upon, is the value of Government. As the virus rages and governments respond to it, we see daily how important it is to have sound and decisive governance; to elect leaders who are empathetic, free from hubris, and who understand the responsibility of governors to the governed, especially in a time of crisis. I will reiterate that the Andrew Holness-led Administration, and especially its Ministry of Health and Wellness under Dr Christopher Tufton, has handled the crisis well so far. The worst thing that any Government could do is to politicise a health crisis, especially one that poses such a great threat as COVID-19.

This is not the time for political calculation as to how one can retain power. It is not about scoring political points over an opponent. It is, first and foremost, about the people's welfare and harnessing their resources to confront a common enemy. To make political calculations about who should benefit and who punished is not just an act of political desperation, but one that is diabolic and deadly from whichever angle it is looked at.

We can curse governments and politicians all we want, but somebody has to be in charge. We hope that enlightened leaders will make the right decisions. Enlightened citizenship must keep them accountable. Part of this accountability must recognise that there will be serious disruptions in our way of life. Human beings are creatures of habit who can hardly tolerate any disturbance of their settled way of living. But natural plagues and scourges do not respect this status quo, and when they do disrupt us we have to embark on collective responses at the centre of which must be those we have elected to lead us. It is that simple. But we must be vigilant and hold their feet to the fire.

Finally, where is God in all this? We are in the grips of a crisis that can last for quite a while. Perhaps for the first time in their lives many people are contemplating the possibility that they could die from this virus. At the beginning of January 2020 many of us made plans; dying from a virus was not in our calculation, but there is now the real possibility that you could contract COVID-19, and even die from it.

This has forced sober reflection on our future and, perhaps, our relationship with our creator. For whoever our 'higher power' is, the times scream for a sense of transcendence which can give us some hope beyond the finality of life we see around us.

For many people this hope is in God. But I speak of a realistic hope and not one rooted in a fundamentalism that believes that the virus is the visitation of God's judgement upon us. We live with viral, bacterial, and fungal agents just as much as we do with cats and squirrels. Every so often, as is happening now, we have to contend with these agents as they threaten our lives. But God, in his wisdom, has placed more software than hardware between our ears and we have been able to figure out how we can contain and even eliminate these threats.

We should not have to wait for a crisis to force us into the arms of God. But anytime we are willing to focus deeply on our mortality and deeper things of the soul is welcomed by me. This is not an evangelical appeal, but it is time for us to ask ourselves serious questions about how we now live our lives. Be calm and sober in your contemplation. There is no need for fear. Parents, give your children a big hug.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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