What Is This Crisis Calling Us To?
My grandparents Florence and John Taylor. Florence died in the flu pandemic of 1918-1919.
What is the coronavirus epidemic calling us to?
Ironically, this disease that separates and isolates us from each other as we try to prevent its spread also calls us into deeper levels of connection. Connection with community, with ancestors, and with nature.
Being more physically isolated can be stressful and scary. At the same time, the invisible threads linking us become more apparent. We are woven together through sound waves, news, social media; through local, national and global systems – political, economic, health care; and through shared spiritual energy. It’s clear how dependent each person’s well-being is on the well-being of the whole.
The epidemic challenges us to curtail the rampant individualism that has characterized our nation and to act for the collective good. Individuals who hoard N95 respirator masks and other protective gear endanger first responders, health care workers, and patients. Those workers are making enormous sacrifices right now – even their lives. The rest of us need to contribute in whatever way we can. Examples include: pressuring our current immoral and incompetent administration to start making the situation better instead of worse. Donating money and supplies to those who need them. Running errands for at-risk neighbors. Working in many different ways to create access to education, health care, living wages, and a sustainable environment for all. Staying away from each other doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other. It is an expression of caring.
Each one of us has ancestors who survived epidemics, many of them worse than this one. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. We can remember, honor, and call on our ancestors, those who survived and those who died in epidemics. We can look at photos, hold the ancestors in our minds and hearts while meditating, or meet them in other intuitive ways. They can offer wisdom and resilience.
My great-great-grandparents on my mother’s side survived the Great Famine of 1845-52 in Ireland. During that time, a million people died of starvation and the raging epidemics – typhus, dysentery, smallpox, relapsing fever – that fed on weakened bodies. Another two million emigrated, some in ships overwhelmed with disease, called “coffin ships.” My ancestors made it to New York City as young adults, fifteen years after the Famine started. Almost 60 years later, their eldest granddaughter, my mother’s mother, died at the age of 26 in the 1918-1919 flu pandemic. My grandfather, mother, and uncle survived. I carry both trauma and strength from these experiences embedded in my genes.
The swift spread of a disease to which few in the United States have resistance has a terrible precedent. When European explorers landed their ships on the shores of what are now the Americas, they brought with them diseases that none of the indigenous peoples had been exposed to before. Indigenous people died by the millions. Aided by epidemics, European settlers took possession of almost all of the land through genocidal violence. The current crisis calls us to remember this shameful part of American history and, for white settler descendants, to make amends. Small but meaningful examples: we can honor the Duwamish Tribe, the original people of the Seattle area, with land acknowledgements and support the tribe through Real Rent Duwamish or other contributions.
We modern humans tend to focus our attention on our interactions and relationships with other humans. As these become less of a focus day-to-day, we can take time to interact with our other family members and neighbors: the plants, animals, birds, and insects that inhabit our homes and immediate surroundings. We depend as much on trees and other living beings as we do on people; without trees, we can’t breathe. You don’t have to go far. A crack in the sidewalk, a planter box in a window or on a balcony, or whatever lives in the yard, if you have one, can provide connection, delight, and wisdom.
Illness and disruption cause significant suffering – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. They can also open us to new ways of thinking, feeling, living. May this epidemic push us to remember our history, personal and collective, and repair the disconnections and injustices that help fuel the spread of disease.