This week has seen ongoing horror in the continuing spread of the coronavirus. Devastating outbreaks in nursing homes, meat packing plants and prisons haunt the airways. New models show dramatically higher estimates in expected deaths, up to 135,000 lives in the US alone—twice what was predicted just two weeks ago. Tensions have risen as protesters demand, sometimes violently, that states withdraw stay-at-home mandates so economies can reopen. The inexplicable lack of federal coordination—testing, supplies, strategy, etc.—continues to take lives. Little planning seems to be underway for an anticipated second wave of the virus which looms just over the horizon.
And yet, despite this negative news, I’ve been reminded how the current “pause” has given us an opportunity, if we but seize it, to learn from all this and fashion a new and more humane future. Several experiences this week have given me renewed hope that forces may already be underway to shape a better tomorrow.
First, I’ve begun writing for our local paper and was recently assigned a story about how coronavirus has impacted local businesses. The story was published last week (you can read it here), but what surprised and encouraged me was the underlying spirit of generosity and graciousness I encountered time and again as I interviewed local merchants—employers concerned about their employees, staff members concerned about one another, customers showing patience for contractors, businesses giving food and money to those in need, even offering to pay regular fees although services could not be provided. Special concern was expressed for immigrants, acknowledging how pre-existent fear, unrelated to the virus, was now entwined with increased dependency on government agencies for health and safety. If such generous spirit continues beyond the lock-down and becomes the bedrock of a new reality, we will all be better off.
Then, I came across two on-line videos that offered hope in unusual places. The first is a message from George W. Bush. Now, I’ve never been a big W fan, but compared to our present reality, I guess everything is relative. In a video reminiscent of Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic convention (“there are no red states, there are no blue states…), President Bush moves us beyond partisanship and calls us to a common humanity in response to the virus. The second is a brief video by New Zealand-born poet Tomos Roberts, aka Tom Foolery whose fairytale, The Great Realisation, has already racked up more than four million views on YouTube. I recommend both to you as a lift to your spirits.
Finally, on Sunday I participated in a virtual program, We Breathe Together, sponsored by the Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, MD that brought together a wide array of religious leaders who shared in word and music their respective hopes for our world. It was an illustration of how technology can connect us across lines of difference and offered an example of how we can celebrate our diversity and still bridge the divides that others seek to erect between us.
None of these experiences alone would be enough to outweigh the ongoing onslaught of exaggeration, distraction and misdirection from the administration. But, taken together, these experiences offer a glimpse into new possibilities already underway in a future that is ours to shape.