We’re living through an extraordinary and historical time. The coronavirus is causing gatherings, events and much of life to grind to a halt. Mission San Juan Capistrano even told the swallows not to return on St. Joseph’s Day! Markets are whipsawing and free-falling. And who even remembers we’re in the midst of a heated Presidential primary, one which consumed the news reports just a few days ago? We are all critically short of bandwidth, just trying to land on our feet.
There’s a wise African proverb that says, “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” In other words, when those at the top of the food chain scurry about, the little guys get crushed underfoot.
Sometimes this crushing is intentional, sometimes from apathy, and sometimes it’s unintentional simply by being unaware. Yet we are called to something higher: to awareness and to empathy.
A group at my church provides a monthly breakfast to a few dozen women who live in a shelter near here. Today we got a straightforward notice that tomorrow’s breakfast has been cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. It was the correct decision for everyone involved. And yet… the shelter counts on these volunteer groups to provide much/most of the food for their residents. No doubt, numerous groups will be cancelling. Yet who will consider the unintended consequences of our health decisions on the most vulnerable in our society or around the world? (I sent in a donation in lieu of our bringing food.)
So let’s pause to remember: We are the elephants.
There will be myriad opportunities in the coming days where we can exercise awareness and empathy as we move quickly to protect ourselves and our communities. Hourly workers are being laid off when we don’t shop or eat out. Low income children are missing nutritious lunches when schools close. Donations to our churches and charities are at risk when we don’t show up or plug in.
I’m as guilty as anyone. The Syrian war entered its ninth year this week. Our team got a fresh update from a World Vision expert, and I couldn’t absorb even half of what he presented.
All of us are impacted. In fact, this may be the first time in our lifetimes where we ourselves are facing the very same challenges the world’s poorest children and most vulnerable families are facing. That in itself should aid in rekindling our empathy for others.
What’s very, very un-similar is the resources we each have available to deal with these challenges. Most of us know, and it goes without saying: this is not the time to horde. But can we summon up the emotional and spiritual discipline to share?
As the “Haves” in this world, our actions carry enormous heft and huge implications for the “Have-nots.” Yes, we will all be impacted. But if we exhaust all our energy on coping with the impacts to ourselves and our own households, we will fail to live out our calling in one of the times when it is needed the most.
Self-preservation is not one of the Fruits of the Spirit.
Let’s do better. Let’s remind each other, with gentleness and understanding, of the unintended consequences of our actions on the lives of the most vulnerable. Let’s set aside time and energy to think through those consequences, and to mitigate against them. The more energy we spend wringing our hands about the inconveniences and disappointments we face and the more we struggle just to cope with these changes to our own lives, the less available we will be for mankind and for the Kingdom of God and the less we will attempt to help our vulnerable neighbors around town and around the world to deal with the very same challenges.
How can we be our brothers’–and our sisters’–keeper, so we can walk together through this challenging time? If we do, perhaps God can even use this to draw us closer.
PS: I reached out today to friends in Hong Kong and asked how things are progressing there after the initial disruptions: “After the panic buying things mostly calmed down. There were a couple incidents of “toilet paper heists” 🙄 but then it didn’t happen again. Very silly. For the first month or so I’d say people diligently laid low. A week or so ago people started coming out and going about life again. The subways are getting more and more busy but with 99% of people wearing face masks. It’s definitely socially expected. It’s actually odd for people to not wear a face mask 😷”
… It’s nice to have some assurance that things will normalize in the not-distant future. Similar short-term dynamics happened after 9/11, and it may be useful to remember your own lessons from that world-stopping event. Click here for one of mine.