Since the first case of covid-19 was reported in the US, Americans have had to face a new cause of illness and death. Two years into the experience, society remains divided in its willingness to combat the virus, protect itself, and limit the harms that this pernicious, sometimes mortal contagion wreaks. Covid is just dangerous enough to interfere with ordinary social pleasures, disrupt institutional regimens, and cramp habits of congregation outside. Continue reading
My husband and I were on a Zoom visit with our children last night. Our kids are spread across the United States. Our daughter lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and their son. Our older son, who is the middle child, and his wife live in Los Angeles. Our youngest and his wife and their two sons live in Orlando. We live in a rural area in the north Florida panhandle. Our home is in a sparsely populated area on a beautiful piece of land, nine acres in size. In other words, we, unlike our children and grandsons, do not live on top of our neighbors. We haven’t had to isolate as much as our kids, but I realized last night that we are significantly more isolated than they, during this time that I early on termed “the current unpleasantness.”
Our kids were discussing how, now that the pandemic is past the two-month mark of social distancing, they are beginning to expand their small family-unit groupings into wider “bubbles” of trusted friends who have also been isolating and whom they consider “safe” to associate with. The Californians’ expanded circle is not haphazardly arranged. Their bubble has specific quarantine rules that all members must observe to belong to the group. Our household has not expanded beyond ourselves and our two dogs. The majority of people with whom we socialize are among the CDC-identified vulnerable population and are uncomfortable spending time with those with whom they don’t reside.
It was interesting to listen to the kids talk about how so many features of life that we all took for granted when they were growing up are now unknowns, things like summer vacations, playing with friends, outdoor get-togethers, eating out, and going back to school in the fall. At least now they feel freer to associate with a wider, though tiny and carefully controlled, community. I was happy for them and proud of their ability to calmly navigate their separate ways through this unprecedented time.
Also happening out there, in the wider country, are protests—peaceful expressions of frustration which too often transition into violent expositions of rage— along with out-and-out riots more bent upon destruction than facilitating change. These actions are occurring because, once again, a white police officer killed a black man during an arrest. This particular incident took place in Minneapolis. Yet again, race is dividing the United States. I don’t know all the facts in this case, but I am certain that the facts don’t matter as much to the protesters and rioters as the truth that this type of situation has occurred too often. Tragedies such as this are less about race than about power and control. They are about having and not having. They are about fear of others and fear of outsiders—suspicion and the lack of trust between varied groups of people.
Police, in theory at least, are supposed to protect the interests of the innocent. Their very presence is designed to deter crime and injustice. But in poor communities, law enforcement has become the “predator” class. This perception automatically groups others as “prey.” It’s not a good dynamic for fostering trust and/or cooperation. I suspect this fact has exacerbated the present situation: that the very community most hurt by the viral pandemic is the same one protesting ruthless treatment at the hands of police.
All of us have become too pent-up inside. We don’t have our usual outlets of sports and our myriad outside activities. Our kids cannot go to school. Most of us can’t even gather to worship. We are told to stay home, and I believe too many people are tired of being restricted. I suspect that the numbers of those who are simply sick of what they cannot do vastly outnumber the ones who have contracted the novel corona virus.
People are more isolated from one another, suspicious of one another everywhere. The mask-wearers of the pandemic consider those who don’t cover their faces to be selfish, inconsiderate, and dangerous. People outside of our self-imposed bubbles of protection are unsafe and untrusted. People who still have employment during this time of social and economic shutdown are divided from those whose jobs have been furloughed. I suspect that too many of those waiting for their salaries to reappear will discover that they don’t, and they will become victims of yet another financial downturn.
Too many of these people will join the ranks of the invisible masses whom the employed don’t know how to help and will eventually fail to notice over time. Like the homeless, the undocumented, the ones who slip between the ever widening cracks of society, they will become more and more those whose situation is so difficult a problem to solve that society forgets about them, not out of lack of compassion but out of the guilt of helplessness. The invisible won’t be fortunate enough to find refuge inside the safe bubbles that shelter our loved ones. I fear that fear will eventually pit the prey against the prey in an ill-fated attempt to protect themselves against a predator who seems impenetrable.
All this is challenging my hope. It’s running up against my desire to believe that we are all beloved children of the same God who breathed life into being. It’s Pentecost today. Our priest reminded me this morning that God sent all of us an Advocate, in the form of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost marks the epoch when our risen Lord appeared to a gathering of his apostles and disciples and imbued them with the Holy Spirit by breathing on them.
How are communities going to allow themselves to feel protected when they fear those sent to keep them from harm? How are we to believe that we are all in this together when we are expected to isolate ourselves from everyone else? How are we supposed to be advocates for each other when we live in terror that someone whom we are afraid to trust might breathe on us? And how can we expect people to trust an authority who repressed the desperate pleas of one who whispered, “I can’t breathe”?
Linda Tysall Ricke
31 May 2020
Guest contributor Linda Tysall Ricke holds a Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction
and writes about faith and politics from her home in rural Florida.
Image © 2020 American Inquiry.
The South Shore Line, an electric train that runs from South Bend Indiana into Chicago, runs through some of the most beautiful places along Lake Michigan as well as some of the poorest and dirtiest. The simple beauty of the dunes, marshes, and woodlands that line the Lake alternates with a landscape that industry and humble labor of many sorts have shaped.
The train runs along the beautiful old Calumet Trail, a prairie path that has existed since Indian times, following the curve of the Lake across boundaries separating town from country, blurring the distinctions of ownership and governing. All of northern Indiana and Chicago’s southern hinterland are seamlessly joined. On both sides of the train flow thousands of properties—neat and messy, beautiful and ugly, thriving and moldering—suggesting every condition of American society.
It’s a hard train ride because so many neighborhoods are decrepit and decaying. So many places—and people—are just scraping by. Our America is not a spotless picture-perfect place. Off the political grid are thousands of people subsisting in garbage-strewn trailer parks, or living in ramshackle housing with windows missing. They are exiles from the land of opportunity. Embarrassing aberrations with no place in the progressive narrative of the world’s greatest nation, they are geniuses of survival, disciples of the art of making something out of nothing. With luck, every day is the same, where social isolation limns the horizon.
Is this the nation our forebears intended us to become?