Today marks five weeks since I have seen my college students in person. Five weeks since I could watch their eyes as they spoke. Five weeks since I could read their body language as they walked into the classroom. Five weeks of me wondering if they are doing ok. If they are in loving and safe environments. If they are keeping in touch with their friends–friends who often have become their chosen family. If they are finding ways to deal with the stress of being an unwilling participant in an historic worldwide pandemic.
I found myself smiling as I watched quiz videos sent to me. I grinned at the familiar careful and deliberate positioning of hands on the piano keys. I giggled as I listened to the tiny mutterings picked up by their phones when a finger slipped to a sour note. I found myself wanting to see their eyes. I need to see how they are doing. I find myself not caring if their hands play smoothly or if their rhythms are correct. I want to know that they feel safe, listened to, seen.
Many of my students live in New York City and surrounding boroughs. Their world has become small. They find themselves practicing in a shared living room. Writing papers on their kitchen tables while dinner is prepared and coffee makers whirr. Trying to do Zoom classes with intermittently stressed internet. This is far from ideal. This is far from what any of us signed up for.
But I don’t hear them bemoaning their loss of mobility or freedoms. Perhaps it is the least of their worries. Perhaps it is because the threat of this new and dangerous virus is right next door. Perhaps it is because they know people personally who have gotten ill, or hospitalized, or even died. They miss going out. They miss their friends. But, they stay home. One’s perspective is greatly influenced by one’s surroundings and experience.
Yet, in the past week I have been hearing the crescendoing drumbeat of the frustrated, the bored, the extroverted, the privileged. They want out of their comfortable homes. They want more space than their nice backyards. They want to shop leisurely at Target, take their children to the playground, and eat out with friends. They want their gyms and their dance classes. They want their church meetings and family trips. They blame the government for imprisoning them inside their homes. They lash out at scientists and experts who repeatedly preach the necessity of social distancing.
I check in daily with some friends on the frontline of this pandemic. I check in to see how they are holding up under the strain. How is my grocery store worker friend doing with the crowds invading her space as she does her best to provide their necessities? How is my medical worker friend doing as staff push aside their own fears to care for the terribly ill? How is that bank teller with lupus doing as she continues to serve us? Are they bemoaning the wearing of masks and stay at home orders? No. None of them. They worry about their own health, their family’s health and the health of coworkers every single day as they do the work that our complainers are protected from.
Does my assessment of those pushing for a return to normal sound harsh? Perhaps. But I still do so unapologetically. Each person I have heard complaining seems focused on themselves. The disruption of their normally busy routines. The loss of normal work environments with beloved coworkers. The frustration of having to entertain young children and repeatedly explain why friends cannot come over. The sense that the government is encroaching on their rights and freedoms.
And each one is a conservative Christian. This is what feels like a gut punch. I have watched people claiming their death of self in service to their God raging against not getting to do what they want to do. I have watched people whose Bible states that the root of all evil is the love of money focus solely on the economic impact of this current reality. I have heard the new gospel of “without work, people will lose all hope” instead of the Gospel of Hope they claim to believe. Is any of the energy spent raging against the government being spent checking up on neighbors, coworkers, friends? Are they checking in on people to be sure they are not feeling hopeless and alone? Are they using all the resources we have at our fingertips to creatively support one another? Are they helping to feed an out of work person nearby? Or supporting a food bank that fills in the gaps left by financial uncertainty?
I have found it terribly troubling that the idea of herd immunity is growing in popularity among these same people. Herd immunity needs (conservatively) 80-95% community immunity to work for the most infectious illnesses. Who are we willing to sacrifice for this? What young person is most expendable? Who would Jesus choose to sacrifice for the good of the economy? And while we wait to meet this enormously high threshold, how many essential employees are involuntarily laid upon that altar? How many healthcare workers?
The inconsistency of when we are to submit to authority (according to the scriptures supposedly held dear) is also troubling. In the early days of the Trump presidency when there were mass protests and many vocal resisters I watched time after time as conservative Christians scolded these individuals. “We must submit to authority!” they preached to those against the unchristlike policies of this government. “Why not pray for your president instead of criticizing?!” (as if the two are mutually exclusive). There was laughter at the waste of time that protesting was deemed to be. Not now. Now there are cheers for the crowds on the Michigan statehouse steps demanding lifted restrictions.
Yet, now the tone taken is one of fighting government overreach. We must not stand by and watch our rights get taken away!!! Shouldn’t we just pray and support our leaders now as you said before? Or is it, as is blatantly apparent, that we support and pray for the leaders whose policies we like while demonizing and claiming righteous anger against those we don’t? Can we not see that happening in this pandemic and the rippling effects of social distancing? Is staying inside our safe and warm homes really that impossible and torturous? Where does the attitude of being a humble servant to others fit in this? Shouldn’t those who follow Christ willingly isolate for the protection of those who do not have that luxury? Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be for the love of all? Even that grocery store checkout person who must help you even when you refuse to wear a mask for their protection. Because–my rights. Because–I don’t live in fear. Because bull. Because selfish and proud.
Social distancing is hard. There is a sense of grief for our former routines lost. Video calls are mediocre substitutes for a live human within arms’ reach. Teaching online is painful for all who miss their classrooms. Counseling by phone is exhausting for those wishing to see their clients face to face. But it is our current reality. We can choose to look for conspiracies and threats to ourselves and our previous way of life. Or we can choose to protect our neighbors, friends, essential workers, and loved ones by listening to the overwhelming evidence that social distancing is our biggest weapon against this virus. We can follow these guidelines to buy time for the researchers. We can give up our browsing through malls to buy time for the vaccine developers. We can wear a cloth mask in public to give the manufacturers of PPE time to equip our medical professionals in the thick of battle. I’m all in on doing our damnedest to avoid the 50 million plus lives lost in the 1918 global pandemic. We now have so many more resources at our fingertips to make surviving this pandemic (alone, but still connected to others) than ever before.
Instead of talking of the threat of mass suicides (with no data to support such claims), why not use this time to make others feel loved, connected, cared for, noticed? There is no better antidote to depression and suicide that we normal (non-mental health professional) humans can help with than connection and care. Awareness and love for our neighbors and coworkers, family and friends. We have extra time. What is stopping us from such things?
And please, conservative Christian friends, let’s try to return to the core teachings of Jesus and care for the widow, poor, and marginalized. Right now that means less worry about our rights and more about their lives. Lives over money. Lives over inconvenience. Lives over our loss of control.