By Sandra L. Strauss
A year ago, the concept of a pandemic would have been inconceivable for the vast majority of Americans. Smallpox, once a common, deadly disease, has been eradicated.
Other diseases, such as polio, measles, and seasonal flu viruses that tend to spread over the winter months are mostly kept under control through the widespread use of vaccines.
Zika, Ebola, and several SARS viruses are mostly far away and have been controlled relatively quickly. The last pandemic of any great proportions was the 1918 flu. Many have believed that a pandemic like that of 1918 could never happen again, so this year’s SARS-CoV-2, or novel coronavirus, and the illness it causes, COVID-19, took us by surprise.
The effects, as we know now, have been devastating. Just in this country alone, over 225,000 deaths, with over 1.1 million globally.
Families are mourning empty seats at the table and the silenced voices of loved ones across the airwaves. People who are sick and dying from the virus are denied the comforting presence of those who care about them.
Congregations and clergy struggle to help with healing when they can’t come together to remember and celebrate the lives of friends and neighbors who are lost. Families, communities, and businesses have lost a sense of security because of unemployment (and the loss of job-provided health benefits) and the inability to maintain sustainable revenues to survive.
The loss of financial security has led to loss of food security, fear of losing a home and the ability to keep afloat when new job prospects are minimal. We all fear being infected by a virus that is life threatening—and that without insurance, could lead to complete financial disaster.
Infectious disease experts have been issuing recommendations ever since we began to understand the magnitude of this virus—wear masks; maintain physical distance; wash your hands regularly or use hand sanitizer when washing isn’t possible. However, those considered to be essential workers don’t have a choice of maintaining distance—particularly healthcare workers.
Even those of us who do still are faced with taking care of daily tasks that never received a second thought in the past—like grocery shopping. None of this is easy, and the lack of physical contact we once took for granted is disheartening.
Religious services by Zoom or radio just aren’t the same—we miss the smiles, the hugs, the singing, the exchange of signs of peace. COVID fatigue has been setting in for months—especially since a popular belief was that the virus, like seasonal flus, would be gone by summer.
As Christians who look to Jesus, the healer, who opened his arms to all, we are called to be healers—to love our neighbors and to treat them as we would wish to be treated.
The most loving thing we can do in a time of pandemic is whatever it takes to keep our neighbors and loved ones—and all workers on the front line who serve us day in and day out—safe and healthy.
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, infectious disease and health care experts remind us daily that actions like wearing masks and keeping physical distance prevent infection and spread—and call on us to act accordingly.
I am deeply saddened that taking these kinds of actions has been politicized—and that those who do act are painted as weak and castigated for doing so.
I am angered by the verbal and sometimes physical insults leveled at those of us who make the conscious choice to protect our neighbors—and that those who do this don’t seem to recognize that we all have the right to make a choice that we believe is best for us and for our neighbors.
It isn’t surprising that we want to be able to see entire faces again, to shake hands and to offer a hug, to sing out in worship, and to gather without concern for sharing more than joy, celebration, or support.
Responding to calls from experts to take the actions that protect our neighbors is not only the responsible thing to do—wearing a mask, washing our hands, and maintaining our physical distance in public settings are acts of love.
May we all act in a spirit of love and in the knowledge that doing so will bring us back together sooner rather than later.
The Rev. Sandra L. Strauss is the Director of Advocacy & Ecumenical Outreach for the Pennsylvania Council of Churches. For more information regarding the Council, please CLICK HERE.