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Commonwealth in the time of Covid 19.

March 19, 2020

The Eastside Gallery in Berlin stands as an artistic testament to the power of community and resilience. Something to think about in these times.

Today has been an interesting day for me. Which is saying a lot in this time of Coronavirus. But today the border between Canada and the US shut down for non-essential travel. With that declaration and media announcement, my inbox and texts blew up (thank you, friends, for checking in on us!) You see, our daughter is a college student in Canada. Up until today she opted to stay in Canada among her friends, embedded in her life. My husband and I have delighted in her delight. She found her people and her place, and has flourished in University. What we have not always delighted in are her proclamations of “I am never coming back!,” and “When I am here, I just ignore what is happening there.” We get it, of course. The privilege of university life is utter absorption in your immediate studies and the delight of being on your own and rather unencumbered by life. But we as her parents – and as a theologian and an attorney by trade – are also keenly aware that such absorption is not only a privilege, but also an illusion. Viruses have no respect for illusions.

Viruses have no respect for borders, economics, social norms. In their strange, pseudo-living, complex agency, they are wildly capable of sowing chaos. They have a nasty knack of reminding all of us that the myth of rugged individualism is just that – a myth.

The human story is, instead, one of commonwealth and commonweal. At the core of our humanity is our commonality. Deeper than even understanding that there is a common good outside of ourselves is the idea that that common good is bound up in belonging to each other. I’ve blogged about this before, and alas these remain counter-cultural virtues in a society that sees and values humans as mere economic tools.

For the first time since perhaps World War II a virus (!) is waking us to the reality that we are having a global experience. There is no escaping this pandemic. There is no safe space, untouched by the reality of Covid 19. We’ve said as much to our daughter, who is now packing to come home. Nothing much is different here in Texas. We are hunkering down for a long haul. Social distancing is the same reality here as it is there, or in Italy, or China. This is a shared global reality shattering our illusions of individualism and economics: we are one and we are connected. You can wish it otherwise. You can dislike it, or feel threatened by it. You can rail against it. But as I often told my children when they were younger, “You can say that, but you’d still be wrong.”

It all makes me sad. It makes me sad to see sick people, and people dying. It makes me sad to see #WeareinThisTogether as a trending hashtag – as if it were some novel, new idea. It makes me sad to see us struggle to come to terms with what our greed has laid bare: that many more of us that we’d imagined or wanted to imagine, are living on the margins of our communities at the expense of others. That the fabric of society – not just American society, but our global society – is vulnerable to more than just a virus. We are vulnerable to loneliness, fear, heartache, and anxiety.

But here is the good news – the gospel truth, as we say: there is one remedy. There has always been just one remedy. We belong to each other. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health.  We have known this truth for millennia all over the world, and it is a truth that all of humanity shares today; on an aid package of medical supplies China sent to Italy, China pointedly wrote the words of the Roman philosopher Seneca: “We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, flowers from the same garden.”

Eastside Gallery, Berlin

We belong to each other, and we need each other. No, “together” does not make the bad go away. It does not deny death in its many forms.  But together does promise new life and resurrection. Together is where hope lives. And new things happen. So grab a (washed) hand, take a deep breath. There is another side to this, and I promise you: we are in this together, and the other side of this is better . . . together.

 

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