While pandemic panic was driving some to hoard toilet paper, hamburger patties and gasoline, I was stashing away bits of insight and wisdom that I’m hoping will help me make sense of it all.
For example, while electronically thumbing through a New York Times column by Ross Douthat, this little bit jumped out at me:
“Meaningless suffering is the goal of the devil, and bringing meaning out of suffering is the saving work of God.”
A healthy dose of perspective there for folks like me.
And so is this advice about taking care of other people from Henri J.M. Nouwen, whose books I often turn to when I’m muddling through a trial:
“We have to listen to the people in our lives, even the broken ones, and take them very seriously. ... We need to listen to people who are not necessarily easy to listen to.”
Like many other homebound souls, I’ve also taken an interest in books and movies about other plagues and pandemics.
I went back to the novel “The Plague” by Albert Camus. It’s the story of a town being taken over by an infestation of rats.
Scholars claim Camus is writing about the Nazis invading France in World War II, but in these times, I take his observations about life during pestilence at face value. In the novel, the parallels with our own plight are so striking you could use up a box of highlighters just marking the similarities.
Here are a couple of passages from the early pages of the novel:
“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”
“The public lacked, in short, standards of comparison. It was only as time passed and the steady rise in the death-rate could not be ignored that public opinion became alive to the truth.”
And finally, to put a bow on things, here’s a thought of my own.
People wonder how much of our current cautious behavior will remain with us after the current crisis.
I think more will remain than we realize.
In our culture, we’ve become so obsessed with trying to eliminate risk in our lives that common sense tends to take a holiday.
I think of Halloween, for instance, where even the sweetest, most celestial grandmother in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would never dare hand out apples to the kiddies at her door. The kids — and their parents — might think she’s the wicked witch from Snow White out to poison them.
In our culture today, all it takes is one bottle of tainted Tylenol in Atlanta to send the residents of Anchorage scrambling to buy aspirin.
No, I’m afraid the false comfort we feel in believing we can eliminate risk is going to be with us for some time.
In other words, prepare to keep bumping elbows ‘till kingdom come.