A few weeks ago, just as our corner of the world was coming under the specter of the COVID-19 virus, one of my parishioners stopped me to unload their frustrations with our nation’s preparedness, or lack thereof. “Now is not the time”, I told them “The virus doesn’t stop to ask what party, denomination, or age any one person is, and so neither should we. The time for sorting out what could have and should have been done or said will come once we get through this and things get back to ‘normal,'” I told my parishioner.
Since that exchange, I’ve been thinking about that last part, when things get back to “normal.” Now, a few weeks later, I’m not so sure there will be a “normal” that any of us will be getting back to. For people throughout the world who have lost or will lose loved ones to the virus, there certainly will not be a “normal” to go back to.
For all of us, while the pandemic has brutally reminded us that we are all truly interconnected, it has also revealed just how many of us were already living on the edge to begin with. While everyone from nurses to CNAs to all varieties of medical workers to warehouse and grocery store workers (just to name a few) are rightfully being called heroes in the midst of the current crisis, can we really just go back to a state of normalcy when that normalcy all too often meant inadequate pay and benefits for all too many?
Right now, in the midst of this public health emergency, when social service agencies, non-profits, churches, and volunteers are stepping up to fill the gaping gaps of the social safety net, how can we go back to a “normal” time when all too many working families had to rely of emergency food donations to begin with?
Right here in Muscatine, we have already witnessed how our collective better angels have risen to the occasion. Volunteers help to keep the Food Pantry at MCSA running. School teachers help to keep the spirits of their students up and their curiosities sparked. Neighbors check on one another. Citizens sew masks for hospitals. Everyone from first responders to social workers continue to risk their own health to keep others safe. Utility workers keep the lights on and the water running. Small business owners do their best to still provide services and stay afloat.
As in other times of emergency or tragedy, people rise to the occasion, not because they are all-of-a-sudden-heroes but because that’s just who they are. We come together as a community. We see where the hurt is, and we do what we can to help. We keep our distance not because we are being selfish but because we care about what we might unknowingly be passing on to others.
Coming to see just how interconnected we all are in the midst of this crisis, we have also come to see that we all have a role to play in maintaining the common good and that maintaining the common good, like maintaining public health, is in everyone’s best interest, whether that be by making sure everyone has enough to eat or by making sure that everyone has reliable health care. So maybe instead of going back to “normal,” we ought to make this level of community care, concern, and commitment the new normal. Either way, once this virus passes, we will all be left with the challenge to begin again.
This Sunday is Easter. Never meant to be a just a date on the calendar, Easter celebrates resurrection and the promise of new life. Sadly, we will still be in the grip of this pandemic when Easter arrives on the calendar this year. However, just as many churches all across the world have found new and innovative ways to continue gathering virtually while still being transmitters of hope, so can we as a society find new ways to make sure that the worth and dignity of every person, from the shelf stocker to the floor manager, are valued and respected. We can begin again, and we can create a new, more humane, and more sustainable normal.