Recent weeks have seen dramatic steps being taken by countries to stem the threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). School closings announced, sports events canceled, travel restrictions enforced, and a barrage of messages from government and medical leaders urging all citizens to take appropriate precautions. As the number of deaths worldwide continues to rise, no one argues that the deadly threat posed by this flu-like virus doesn’t warrant the label of pandemic. Here in the Southland, the only thing more prevalent than the springtime clouds of yellow pollen is a growing fear, frustration, and confusion surrounding life in a world afraid to breathe.
While I don’t think we are or should be at a panic level, I do believe this viral threat is nothing to take lightly, especially for seniors and those whose health is already compromised. Just ask my adult children who have, in no uncertain terms, insisted I stay home in a closet with a can of Lysol close by.
Based on toilet paper sales alone, it appears shoppers fear this new virus more than death or public speaking. While some are in panic mode, others are merely taking precautionary measures like the frequent washing of hands and following the President’s request to avoid crowds.
A quick survey of Facebook posts reveals the topic du jour is the Coronavirus and our response to it. Admonishments about those who are hoarding items like toilet paper have given rise to memes like “I am throwing a party, it’s BYOTP.” Instructions on how to make your own hand sanitizer is a popular trend. In the midst of the fear though, humor abounds. One obviously frustrated Dallas Cowboy fan suggested a way to avoid catching the Coronavirus was to wear a Dallas Cowboy Jersey — then you won’t catch anything. Or the complainant who moaned he had washed his hands so many times now he could see the answers to his 9th-grade History test he took in 1978.
There is even new terminology, or at least phrases I have not heard before, like social distancing. The latest fad is musing potential names in anticipation of a likely spike in births nine months hence — baby-names like Corona Lisa. Someone has suggested we label these newborns the “Coronials”.
All kidding aside, what should we be doing other than hiding in a closet with a bottle of Lysol spray?
Nathan Betts, in an article for RZIM.org, The Coronavirus: Choosing Love in a Time of Fear*, offered the following tips on how to live as Christians in the midst of a global pandemic panic.
- Quiet. It is difficult to live out of love when our minds are anxious. A still mind is a better starting point. Take time daily to be quiet. In this moment, there is so much noise, especially online. If we find our minds and hearts busy, setting aside time daily to simply be quiet can enable our minds to have the quietness we need.
- Prayer. Pray often. We live in an age of self-sufficiency. And yet, the coronavirus has exposed how flawed this mindset is. Setting aside different times of the day for prayer to God, calling out to Him for help, reminds us that we cannot do things on our own. We need his help. If we call out to Him, He will answer.
- Listening to God. Take time daily to read or listen to the Bible. The Bible shines a spotlight on how God has acted throughout history—in times of hardship, plagues, war, famine, and peace. The Bible helps us know what God is like and how He has acted throughout history. Becoming aware of God’s acting throughout history creates a greater sensitivity to how he might be working today in our lives and in the world.
- Understanding. Practice the discipline of understanding. I have found that in order for me to love my neighbor, friend, or family member well, I need to understand them. Understanding is vital to loving. But this takes patience and care. It requires us to ask more questions than to utter statements when we are in conversations.
- Thoughtful Care. Increasing amounts of people are being quarantined during this time. Having the opportunity to express care and kindness can become more challenging. One practical way in which we could express care for our quarantined friends could be to use our phones to actually call our friend. Or we could set up a video call. Hearing a friend’s voice can be hugely meaningful, especially during times of self-isolation. We could send a note of encouragement to a friend by text or video chat. While still maintaining social distancing, making a point to check in on elderly or vulnerable neighbors could be a way of letting them know that they are loved. In this time, we need to become creative in expressing embodied ways of expressing care to others while at the same time not necessarily being physically present with them.
Two years ago, I posted a blog about a 100-year-old memory regarding another flu epidemic. In light of current events, I thought an updated post might be helpful.
In the early 1990s, I helped my grandmother write her memoirs. Her name was Anita McElhannon, but her family affectionately called her Dado. Born in 1897, she would eventually live until 2001, dying at the age of 103. Listening to her tell stories of growing up in rural Georgia during the first half of the 20th century proved to be a fascinating, if not mesmerizing experience. It is still one of the highlights of my life to have helped her put into writing her most precious memories.
During one of her visits to my home, I took the opportunity to quiz her on why she named her six children Fayette, William (Bill), Hazel, Stewart, Walter, and Vera. It was during that discussion that I learned something of extraordinary significance…
She had almost died in 1918.
She had given birth to my Uncle Fayette in 1917 and was pregnant with my Uncle Bill in the Fall of 1918. During our discussion, she made an off-hand comment that her doctor was quite surprised she had survived the pregnancy. Responding to my question about the meaning of the doctor’s comment, she explained: “I caught the flu, and my doctor told me I was the only pregnant woman in Winder that caught the flu and survived.”
There was something about how she said it that triggered a thought in my mind. I pondered her words. The flu. 1918. Could that have been the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918? That’s when I excused myself and did some research. Starting in France sometime in 1917, the Spanish Flu spread worldwide, eventually killing 3% to 6% of the world’s population. Most of Europe was embroiled in World War I at the time, and wartime censors limited news reports about the illness to maintain morale. Ironically, neutral Spain fully reported the impact of the flu resulting in it being tagged with its nickname, the Spanish Flu. Hitting the United States in the summer of 1918, this pandemic would kill 675,000 Americans over the following year. Many consider it the worst medical/health crisis in history.
Let’s pray that it alone retains that distinction.
This was the flu my grandmother caught. She survived and lived to give birth to five more children, one of whom was my father, Stewart. I must say, hearing her recount that story was sobering. And recalling her story today is a reminder of the potential threat a pandemic poses.
If there is one practical piece of advice, I have consistently heard these past few weeks it is to wash your hands – frequently. Might I suggest that we don’t just wash them, but fold them in prayer – frequently.
Let us err on the side of caution, then, hopefully, we will live long enough to share our life stories with our grandchildren.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7