Respect amid a Pandemic

Those who try to find something positive amid turmoil, danger, or suffering are often considered Polyanna-ish.  Those who know me know I am not in the least so. I agree that the Coronavirus pandemic is a dangerous, frightening, confusing, and painful situation for people all over the world, and I too would frown on any suggestion that there is a silver lining in such an ominous cloud. 

However, there is an opportunity, and it is the same one offered to us after 9/11, 2001, and which we, for the most part, ignored.

We have the real opportunity (taking advantage of the genuine social isolation thrust upon us) to look deeply into ourselves, the chance to consider the trends in our societies, economies, politics/policies, and religions that have brought us to this moment in history.  There are sages, pundits, analysts, historians, scientists, and psychologists, you will say, who can do this work far better than I/you can – I the ordinary citizen of my town, state, and country, the average inhabitant of this world. True.  But the kind of radical change we need to prevent us from destroying ourselves and our planet must also happen within our hearts.

Our leaders and experts ask us to distance ourselves from others at this time, to withdraw from crowded places, to stay at home.  I respectfully suggest that we take this opportunity to savor a degree of solitude (or at least a slowing of our frantic pace of life) and use it to turn inward and ask ourselves the big questions that we so often avoid.

“Is she going to tell me what those questions are,” you wonder?  No, the questions that are important for you will arise within your own heart, mind, and life if you are quiet, still, and attentive. “There is a time and a season for every activity under the heavens…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) Is now the time to search our souls?

Last night I was talking on the phone with a close friend who said at the end of our conversation, “We will get through this, I know.  We will be okay.” I agree that most people will come through this present danger and be all right. But will we survive it to be wiser, more compassionate, and more aware of our interconnectedness, and our interdependence? Will we be more grateful for one another, more respectful of our differences, and more aware of the needs of each other and the earth? The magnitude of this crisis, one that many of us in my generation in the United States have not encountered before, will change us.  But how will we be changed?  Will we be more fearful, more distant, more judgmental, more blaming?

Or can we sit quietly, getting in touch with our most authentic, most vulnerable, and tender selves?  And can we acknowledge that others who may be different from us may also embody truth? That others also feel vulnerable and hurt and long for a resurgence of tenderness, respect, and hope.

This morning I read the following in an article entitled, “How Not to Freak Out,”by Judy Lief in Lion’s Roar.

“In any individual life, there are easier and harder times. Circumstances are always changing. They change slowly and inexorably, and they change suddenly and unexpectedly.  Often, we see our own hand in the circumstances we experience, and sometimes we are blindsided by situations beyond our control…

There seem to be only two alternatives: the glass is half full or the glass is half empty. But a glass with water up to the midpoint is not making a statement either way.  It is neither half full nor half empty. Neither is it both half full and half empty.  Such a water glass is not elated by being half full, nor discouraged by being half empty.  It just is: a glass with water in it.

The world just is. It is not a this-versus-that, good-versus-bad world.  It is an interdependent world….”

…a world that is constantly changing and continuously offering us the opportunity to change along with it; to see beauty, to be kind, to offer respect, to adopt new attitudes, and learn new habits. We are sorely in need of some new perspectives and patterns of behavior. We have been brought up short by this pandemic.  Let us take some time to stop, look around us and within ourselves, and listen deeply to the voice of our humanity.

As a child in Sunday School, I sang the hymn “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”  For most of my life, I have thought its injunction overly simplistic.  Age and experience have taught me to value and embrace the simple. Forgive me for quoting only the verses with which I agree and that serve my purpose.

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!
Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.
Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear.
Let not narrow self your way debar.
Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer,
Brighten the corner where you are.
Here for all your talent you may surely find a need,
Here reflect the bright and Morning Star;
Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed,
Brighten the corner where you are.
-Ina D. Ogdon published 1913

2 thoughts on “Respect amid a Pandemic

  1. Thank you Moriah for another thoughtful and gentle message during these hard days. I too have found myself looking within and finding ways to deepen my own humanity with love and compassion for this world that suffers so.

    Thanks for the message from Judy Lief! I knew her back in Vermont and perhaps she still lives there. She led a clergy retreat one time and is such a lovely person. It warmed my heart to see her name and hear her words again.

    I also love your childhood song. It reminds me of This Little Light of Mine which we often sing in my church here in Portland (Oregon!) which has a large African American presence and whose choir mistress focuses our music on gospel from the black church. As simple as it is (and far too often used thoughtlessly), I always find my heart moved by the image of my “little light” which can indeed lighten the darkness around me.


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