In the past few days, it’s become almost impossible to keep up to date on the most recent news of the now infamous coronavirus. There have been constant updates from the CDC, from Governor Kim Reynolds, and from countless community organizations. As of Sunday, March 15, there was no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Muscatine county. However, in an attempt to minimize community-spread, some organizations have begun making the tough call to close their buildings and events. So, what, really, are we to do as a community?
Well, lo and behold, this isn’t the first time that the world has dealt with an outbreak impacting numerous countries. Remember studying in school the devastating Black Plague that swept through Europe in the 1300s? Historians tell us that, very quickly, the plague killed up to 40% of the population. Well, the story that sometimes isn’t told is that in 1527, the plague returned to Wittenberg, Germany. After having heard passed-down stories of the plague from family members, one can only imagine the fear and anxiety that filled families in Wittenberg.
In answer to this rising public concern, Martin Luther – a Catholic priest and uprising leader of the protestant reformation – wrote “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” In it, he emphasized the duty to care for the neighbor, the responsibility of the government to protect and provide services to its citizens, a caution about recklessness, and the importance of science, medicine, and common sense. To care for the neighbor, Luther recommended that pastors, those in public office, doctors, and public servants should remain in the city. Even Luther himself remained in Wittenberg to care for his people, while at the same time remaining vigilant in his actions so as not to spread the illness any further.
Today, we find ourselves amidst the rise of another illness. But unlike Luther, we also find ourselves amidst a time of social media and constant, relentless news coverage. Understandably, just as in Luther’s day, many are fearful and anxious. So, what are we to do? Well, Luther’s word of advice is still sound: be mindful of the contagion, don’t take unnecessary risks, and provide for the care of your neighbor – especially the most vulnerable.
In order to protect the most vulnerable, for some of our communities, it may be wise to suspend large gatherings. However, for others of our communities, it may still be deemed acceptable to continue gathering. What’s the right answer? As the days pass, I’m growing more and more convinced that there isn’t one “right” answer because like these aren’t as cut and dry as we’d like them to be.
So then, how do we live together as community? Perhaps it comes down to respecting on another – regardless of how we are acting, or reacting, to the coronavirus. And perhaps it comes down to a renewed commitment to be in real relationship with one another. Although we may be urged to take stronger precautions for meeting physically together with one another, there are ways that we can still be in contact with each other in real ways. Because conversations cannot be cancelled. Relationships cannot be cancelled. Love cannot be cancelled. And hope cannot be cancelled. No matter what happens, those things remain.
In these days to come, it’s hard to know exactly what our community life together will look like. But in the meantime, we have reason to live together as community – in whatever fashion that looks like. So right now? What should we do? Be safe. Be smart. Listen to your leaders. Trust their decisions. And take heart. Because no matter what might happen, our connection to each other is never broken.