In April, just a few weeks into our COVID-19 new reality, world-recognized author, filmmaker and fellow Houstonian Lois Farfel Stark wrote an essay entitled, “Breakdown or Breakthrough: Changing the COVID Crisis to Opportunity.” It is a profound piece of writing, and it is a living word, meaning that it has taken on additional meaning in the six weeks since Lois wrote it. In it, she says:
The name of the virus is a shortened form of Coronavirus Disease of 2019. Another way to read the word Covid is to notice that it combines Co, meaning together, and Vid, a root word meaning to see. This is a time of seeing together. Our connectivity is literally staring us in the face, even our masked faces.”
Covid 19 is highly infectious. You can catch it from anyone, whether they know they have it or not. It is invisible, just as the connections that bind us are invisible, but understood intuitively.
An early language of the Dagara tribe in Africa had no word for ‘you’. Their closest translation for the word ‘you’ was: ‘my other self’. That is as close as we can come to describing today’s situation. We are all potential infectors, potential helpers, potentially sick and potential scientists who can devise new cures. The very cure may be from antibodies in the blood of another who lived through it.
You are my other self.
Covid 19 is a virus. A virus does not replicate by itself. It needs a host. Every human being, regardless of age, nationality, race, or belief system, can be a host. This is so fundamental it is easy to overlook. Our most common and connected truth is that we are human beings. We have the same bodies.
It is as if at the same moment, everyone on the globe realized we have a potentially fatal disease. To be reminded of our own mortality wakes us up. All of a sudden, we pay attention to time, to those around us, to the environment we are a part of, to the echo of every action we take, to life itself. That kind of awakening has never before been felt by all humans on Earth at the same time.
Only halfway through the year, 2020 is an experience of crisis layered upon crisis, coming to a head: medical, environmental, economic, racial. There can be a tendency to allow our physical isolation to grant us permission to cocoon, to draw into ourselves as if in a cloistered monastery, walled away from the cares and needs of the world. But I am always reminded of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, who became a hermit only so that he could more potently pray for the people.
That is to say, even in his physical isolation, Cuthbert was ardent and active for those he loved. And who are we to love? As Lois Stark reminds, us, our whole human family, who the coronavirus has, paradoxically, reminded us are our sisters and brothers.
My encouragement to you is to spend some of our physically-distanced time apart in prayer, asking of God which of the layered crises of these days you are called to engage. And then, engage! Use the miraculous ways in which we are still connected, digital and otherwise, to speak, and act, and participate in the redemption of our world and the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.
Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, when we were reminded that even in God there is no one alone. God is relationship between the three persons of the Trinity, and each is the other. Our lives truly mirror God’s. You are my other self. When you hurt, I hurt. When you encounter joy, I cannot help but smile. May we strive in all things for the redemption of one another.