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  • Reverend James Squire

A Look Back to Move Forward to Face the Moral Crisis

I have attached an article, “Pandemics Kill Compassion, Too”, which appeared in The New York Times. Take a close look at that date. It was written on March 12, 2020 almost a year ago when we were becoming more familiar with the Pandemic. Our family just returned from a trip to Costa Rica. It didn’t dawn on us when we said good-bye to two of them that it would be over a year before we could say hello in person.

Brooks’ article is a thorough history of how other pandemics were handled by nations long ago. He did not have a crystal ball, but his article of what happened in the past is fairly on target to what happened to us during the past year. We have learned to take history seriously so that we don’t repeat how we acted in the past and repeat the same mistakes in the future. The benefit of his article is that it shows us that human nature is very basic. Some things don’t change. The way that people handled the pandemic in the past informs the way that we handle that issue today. This is why I thought it was so helpful to see how the British handled the Blitz with grit and perseverance that got translated to their handling of the Pandemic. There was a definite difference. They had a great leader who could keep the spirits and the resilience of the British people up. We did not have that kind of leadership that accepts huge challenges and keeps the people informed with truth.

There are a few points from the article that I want to highlight. Frank Snowden’s comment that “pandemics hold up a mirror to society and force us to ask basic questions: What is possible imminent death trying to tell us? Where is God in all this? What is our responsibility to one another? Imminent death frightened most of us, but there were those who had a death occur in their family that changed their lives forever so for them they could appreciate death more. For them life will not be the same as well. They will appreciate life even more. Others simply denied it as a possibility. This was particularly true for younger people. I am talking about the party goers during significant events like a holiday such as Spring Break. They will move forward in life not giving the pandemic a second thought.

Where is God in all of this? He is lived out in the words of the Gospel of Saint Matthew: “When did we see you, Lord? When you helped those in need.” God always appears in tragedy in ways known and unknown.

What was our responsibility to one another? When people write about this era of struggle in our lives, I think that they will give us mixed reviews in the same way that the response to past pandemics demonstrate how there were those who rose to the occasion and made us proud of our shared humanity and there were those who did not.

I was struck by Brooks’ comment that “this explains one of the puzzling features of the 1918 pandemic. When it was over, people didn’t talk about it. There were very few books and plays about it. There was almost no conscious cultural mark.” With Trump we heard nothing about it. With Biden we remembered publicly what had occurred.

What would those want said or written who wrote the flu off as no big deal not worthy of thinking that it could kill them or those who would not care for others by getting a vaccine and wearing a mask? They would want nothing said, written, or done.

The pandemic brought out the best and the worst in us with one exception according to Brooks: “Health care workers. In every pandemic there are doctors and nurses who respond with unbelievable heroism and compassion.” Brooks wouldn’t have known that the medical people would be added to by heroic behavior as well by such as the teachers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, first responders, and all those who put their lives and the lives of their love ones at risk by coming to work when it would be safer to stay home.

When people talk about the Pandemic, they focus on the physical challenges such as the new variants being found. But it was just as much a moral crisis seeing what people did and did not do. That needs to be explored as well.

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