Our lives have changed. Changed by pandemic, changed by death, changed by necessity. As a part of the human condition we are naturally resistant and reluctant to change. In this matter, however, we’ve been given no choice. No one asked our advice or opinions before the world drastically shifted from what we’ve known it to be. How do we maintain morale? Where do we find the courage for resilience?
Amidst sheltering in place and social distancing we find hope for survival by intentionally looking for means in which we can live in unity.
Tate: Our children will never know the world we grew up in prior to September 11th, 2001. How does our current situation relate? Can you imagine things returning to some sense of normal on the other side of this?
Tiffany: We will not be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic. We simply cannot be. We will have lived through a global trauma and we will have done it communally. We will have stretched ourselves beyond our routines, our training, and our degrees. We will have reinvented ways of living, worshipping, leading, teaching, parenting, and shopping. We will innovate and create. We will engineer and pioneer. We will develop solutions and ideate new possibilities. We will push through to a new frontier.
Tate: I’m beginning to recognize how much we’ve taken for granted without realizing it. If I’d only known there would be this long hiatus before we could see portions of our families again, our friends and members of our church. And yet, I’ve also found that we’re calling to check on each other more often, putting cards and letters in the mail, and using social media to post messages of hope and encouragement.
Tiffany: We are in a shared time of transformation. This is a time that will reformat the way that we think and work, care for each other and behave. We have the opportunity to rise above and beyond what has separated and divided us, to stand in solidarity with the very fiber that connects us, our humanity. This period of pandemic has given to us a rebirth of the human enterprise known as community. We have once again been reminded of our need for the other. Our survival depends on more than our own ability, but on the collaborative efforts of humanity as a whole. This pandemic, this disease, does not discriminate as humans do. This is a battle we share, and we must overcome together. Survival depends on it.
Tate: One of the things that moved me greatly was the support that has been given to medical professionals and first responders. We sat in a packed hospital parking lot with much of our community, flashers on and prayers lifted. Seeing hospital employees standing in the windows and outside the doors while we expressed our appreciation filled me with hope and faith.
Tiffany: Workers who have gone unnoticed and under-appreciated for decades, are finally being seen as the heroes they are. We are not questioning the worthiness of those on the frontlines before we ravage our craft closets and fabric collections to sew medical masks to save their lives. Doctors and medical teams are not asking about the sins of those on respirators while carrying out debates over who deserves to live and who does not, rather we are all seeking to ensure that as many individuals live through this pandemic as possible. We are standing together to fight against what threatens to take our lives. Standing in solidarity is about recognizing what connects us and giving it a greater weight than what separates us. Solidarity isn’t about uniformity, but rather unity of spirit. We have always been called to unite with the neighbor and the stranger. We have always been called to put down our swords. We have always been called to seek the greater good of the other, to lay down our lives for our friends, to serve others more than we serve ourselves.
Tate: In the beginning it may have been easy for people to dismiss the severity of this virus and not take seriously the advice given on limiting unessential activities and interactions. Now, there are days when I even have to turn off the news and social media because it has been a challenge to watch the rising number of deaths it has caused.
Tiffany: In the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Tuesdays with Morrie, author Mitch Albom presents the notion like this: “Amazing, I thought. I worked in the news business. I covered stories where people died. I interviewed grieving family members. I even attended the funerals. I never cried. Morrie, for the suffering of people half a world away, was weeping. Is this what comes at the end, I wondered? Maybe death is the great equalizer, the one big thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another.” Could it be that this very moment in time, as tragic and terrifying as it can be in its most raw form, be a wakeup call for our generations to recognize its very nature cannot be separated from the other? Could it be, that to really live, we must understand that we are truly equal in design and must then therefore take our feet off the necks of those we have oppressed? Albom later tells the reader, “the truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
Tate: There can be a sense of entitlement or even apathy that causes people to think, “These instructions don’t apply to me,” but it only takes a few who aren’t willing to cooperate to endanger everyone around them, no matter how many systems are put into place. In essential errands, such as a trip to the grocery store, I’ve had a chance to see how important it is to have unity in thought and in effort when it comes to the precautions we must take in order to not only protect our own health but also those who are most vulnerable.
Tiffany: Unity amongst humanity means a compassion that extends beyond earthly barriers, economics, and possessions. Unity among humanity means putting down our signs, our politics, our hatred, our verbal and physical violence. It means stepping aside for the other. It means standing in the gap, in front of the train of injustice. It means never valuing our life, our opinions, our traditions, our comforts, over the life of our neighbor. Whether we stand united with medical professionals, lab technicians, scientists, community and religious leaders, or we stand in solidarity with the very people we are commonly found to quarrel with, we have picked up the mantel of life when we have chosen to stand for one another. We choose the “vulnerability that loving entails,” as Albom writes it, when we choose the intentional act of unity with others, for the sake of others.
Tate: There is a lot of educated guessing going on. With so much information coming in each day it seems the only thing we know for sure is that we’re not sure. At this point there are many more questions than answers. It makes it difficult to know what to do and how long we must do it. Where can we find any sense of peace in the not knowing?
Tiffany: There are no manuals or guidebooks to tell any of us how to handle the global pandemic we are facing. We will turn to history, to science, to ancient religious texts, and to the words of our ancestors. We will turn to prayer, to service, to hope. We are not the experts here. We are, in unity with those around the world, the vulnerable human race that stands to lose it all if we do not stand with all. Morrie, a sociology professor, gave us these words to savor then and now. “Be compassionate,” he said. “And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.” Albom noted that Morrie took a breath and then added his mantra: “Love each other or die.” The same God that created you, created me. The same God that put air into Eve’s lungs, breathed into us. The same God that walks with the “thems” of this world, walks with the “us’s.” The same God that knows the sting of death, steals the sting of death. To love now is to practice unity. To live now is to live unified with those like us, and those unlike us. From the beginning, we were all created from the same beautiful dirt. In the end, we are all God’s children.
Rev. Dr. Tiffany A. Nagel Monroe is the Senior Pastor at Shawnee St. Paul’s Methodist Church
Tate Monroe serves as the Director of Discipleship and Development at Shawnee St. Paul’s Methodist Church