Do we really have to shut down our entire country because of the danger of the coronavirus? I confess I’m still not sure exactly about the wisdom of it. I have more thoughts about that, but I’ll save them for a future essay. Right now, the reality is that #canceleverything is winning the day and many of us are now changing our lives in ways that we perhaps never thought would happen apart from a major war or a Bernie Sanders presidency.
Frankly, most of it stinks. But as my dear Grandma Sowers used to say, “Count your blessings!” So I will. Corona means crown, and the official name of the virus is COVID-19, so I will list a perfect nineteen blessings to sit as jewels in this particular corona.
- There is something strangely exciting about all of this. One of my kids observed that he always wanted to be alive for something historic. And the radical day-to-day changes to our habits and our tasks will no doubt be remembered for a long time, whether as necessary evils or an overreaction—or even as a heated debate-team topic for the year 2045. Was the Great Cancellation Necessary? Some might find this offensive since there will likely be many deaths, but this is a human reality. For many veterans, wars were the most exciting times in their lives.
- This is like one of those Old Testament passages about a Sabbath declared for the whole land. Kids are out of school! You are free from awkward social engagements at work or with other people. Our go-go-go society has now been told to calm down and take a collective nap. And many of us have. I still have to work, but I didn’t have to get the kids up at an ungodly hour this morning for school. We even had time for an afternoon hike by the Mississippi. Everybody says to stop and smell the coffee—and now we can. After a bit more sleep.
- That sleep will give us energy to perhaps get the kind of exercise we need. By that I mean outdoor exercise. If social distancing is the name of the game, riding bikes, hiking, and exercising out in the open air is the name of the game. The great thing is that if you’re rotten and out of shape, you can really do the social distance thing excellently by finishing last. Our society is trapped inside too much, and now we can get out.
- With this slower pace and fewer meetings, you can do all the things you said you wanted to do but didn’t have the time. Read War and Peace. Learn carpentry or some other useful skill. Practice the musical instrument you’ve been neglecting. Write that novel you have in you. Do that home improvement project you’ve said you’re waiting to do. Don’t waste it all on watching movies or doodling on social media. You have the opportunity and the time to start new habits.
- One of the best new habits is actually getting to know the people who are around us. It might be the neighbors next door or it might be those strange creatures like wives, husbands, children, or parents. Being trapped in the house might drive us crazy, but it might also drive us sane. We might finally see the people around us as gifts.
- Emergencies can call out the worst in people—see the strange hoarding of toilet paper and hand sanitizer—but they can also call out the best in them. I’ve seen multiple friends emailing or posting on social media about how they are willing to help any elderly or otherwise coronavirus-susceptible friends and neighbors who need help getting groceries, medicine, or whatever. Many grocery stores are offering special hours for the elderly to come in and do their shopping. Frankly, even political discussion seems a bit more rational and calm in many ways (exceptions noted, of course) now that a real threat has appeared.
- Real crises also drive the absurdities of a fat-and-happy society to the curb pretty quickly. Educational institutions and businesses that were obsessed with chic and often dangerous politically correct issues of microaggressions and the like are at least taking a break from their obsessions to figure out how to actually do the work they’re supposed to be doing when everything has been disrupted. I’ve even noticed that fake hate crimes have largely ceased. It’s perhaps harder to focus on creating the victim status you think you deserve in our intersectional world when you see everybody in the same boat and realize it might be time to row.
- Real crises also allow us to say no to the very expensive trappings of status that we feel we have to have in ordinary times. My wife and I have told young couples for years to ignore the demanding and costly siren song of the wedding-industrial complex. Now many of them have to. As a friend observes, “If you were dreaming of a simple wedding, now’s the time.”
- Emergencies force us to focus on what’s most important about our jobs. I teach college students and I’m pleased that in the transition from in-person classes to online classes that people keep it simple. Instead of the usual misguided focus in education on creativity and novelty, emergencies force us to think about what we really want to teach. Instead of the absurd patchwork of rules and regulations, the focus is now on keeping students in the game and connected to their teachers.
- Necessity is the mother of invention and I’ve enjoyed following the work of those much smarter than I in thinking about high-tech and low-tech ways to fight this virus. A vaccine has been developed in record time and has already begun trials. Other scientists are using 19th-century methods to create immunity to the virus. To prepare for the possible onslaught of patients needing ventilators, some people are starting to use 3-D printers to create more supply. And some are figuring out what drugs we currently use for other things that might help those afflicted. The glorious image of God is partly in our rationality—and I’m moved by its use.
- Societally, we can reset some of our modern manners that don’t work. Don’t like the handshake greeting because it’s a good way to catch germs all the time? Or those people who give you fishy-hands or try to ground your bones to make their bread? John Tierney has suggested that this is now the time to make the handshake go back to a symbol of deep alliance. He has his own open hands greeting, but you may think we need to bow like the Japanese. We can think about that—maybe even come up with different greetings in different groups.
- Politically, there is a new creativity—or at least openness to rethinking some questions. Rahm Emmanuel famously said never to let a crisis go to waste. While I don’t approve of what his boss did, I do think the principle is correct. This crisis has allowed us to think about a number of questions that needed to be rethought on the right and left. Mass transportation as our only means of motion? Banning plastic bags? Open borders? A CDC that focused its efforts on “gun violence” and “obesity” rather than actual diseases? Dependence on China for essential medical and other supplies? All now seem strangely different, and the American people have noticed.
- One of the big things about this crisis is that it makes us appreciate the actual place we live in. While we might be grateful for Amazon’s shipments of various things, we also have to notice our neighbors who work at local places. We have to think about how we can keep our own local community going in a time when that’s difficult. Shutting down everything makes us take notice more powerfully than when one small business or non-profit closes. With everything shut down, we tend to notice what we enjoyed or used but didn’t appreciate before.
- Spiritually, there are advantages to be had, too. For Catholics, the suspension of the hug-and-kiss fest known as the kiss of peace has been greeted with great joy. For those of all beliefs who have had church cancelled, this has opened up a new desire to return to worship and to connect more deeply with God and their brothers and sisters. For many, it has offered them the opportunity to start new habits of prayer throughout their day.
- The spiritual aspect goes deeper, however. The very real sacrifices of our ordinary ways of doing things are a wonderful thing for Lent. Sad that you weren’t doing much for Lent? Surprise—you’re now a hermit! A veritable desert father or mother without even leaving Sheboygan. You can’t eat at your favorite restaurant, or perhaps any restaurant, or shop at the places you’re accustomed to. You have to learn new technology for work. All feel like penances. Well, spiritual writers are pretty much in agreement that it’s the penances that God chooses for you that are much more important than the ones that you choose for yourself. They all lead you to be grateful for the gifts and the Giver.
- When you are properly grateful, you’ll be more generous, too. If your income is at least stable, if depleted, now you don’t have the opportunity to spend your money in such a frivolous way, now you can help out friends whose jobs have disappeared, donate to the food shelves that are serving other people you don’t know, and perhaps buy your goods from businesses that are striving to stay open.
- If you’re doing ok, you can also help yourself. Not spending your money on frivolous things allows you to start new habits of paying down your debts or putting money aside for retirement. Or, depending on where the market is, finally investing the money you’ve said you would.
- If you’re out of work or you’re just in a slow-down, you can also take advantage of this time to think about whether you want to do something else for work. Some moms who are at home might think that staying home with their kids is more desirable than their current work. Some who wanted to explore other possibilities will now have the time to think about what they really want to do and, perhaps, what God wants them to do.
- Finally, this crisis does give us an opportunity to laugh and be joyful. From “My Corona” parody videos to jokes about toilet paper hoarders to funny but true anecdotes about the Coronavirus going into quarantine for two weeks after being exposed to Chuck Norris, there will be, even if many sad stories, a lot of good ones too—good good and funny good. We just have to stop grumbling, open up our eyes, and see them.
But before opening my eyes, I’ll just take one more nap.
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The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay, and has been slightly modified for color.