A Responsibility and a Privilege

April 1, 2020

I’m writing this at the end of March, one month into this extraordinary and unsettling time of pandemic in the United States—longer for other parts of the world. As of today, there have been 125,000 cases reported in the U.S. and nearly 2,200 deaths. My husband and I are quietly discussing today’s news report that we might see hundreds of thousands of deaths in our country before all is said and done.

 

Our children, ages 10 and 12, have only a limited sense of their relative good fortune. Neither of their parents has lost a job. Neither of us risks our lives every day as a health care worker or first responder. No one in our extended family is sick at this point. We have health insurance and food and soap and toilet paper and technologies that connect us to the world beyond our yard.

 

Those technologies connect them to their teachers, who are doing an admirable job trying to translate the very human, creative, relational work of teaching and learning to exchanges mediated by screens. Our current circumstances—and particularly the circumstances of our most vulnerable children, who may be dealing with food insecurity or neglect or abuse—remind us like never before that schools are communities whose charge is to care for and improve the well being of all their members. I hope this experience inspires all of us to make those communities even stronger.

 

Every day I talk to my children about what they’re working on and learning. It’s an effort for me to ask them about their assignments, though I do it to keep things as normal-feeling as possible. It’s an effort because I have to lift myself out of the fog of my own worry and preoccupation. But more than that, it’s an effort because there are more important things I hope they’re learning right now.

 

I hope they see the kindness and bravery that is flowering all around them and aspire to be kinder and braver themselves.

 

I hope they are learning that we have choices in how we respond to circumstances we didn’t choose for ourselves.

 

I hope they’re learning what it means to belong to a community, and that how we love and protect each other is both a responsibility and a privilege.

 

 

 

Pandemic

by Lynn Ungar

 

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

 

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

 

Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

 

 

The Rev. Dr. Lynn Ungar is a poet, editor, and minister with the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship. She originally published this poem on Facebook, March 11, 2020.

 

Photo by Liuz Clas, pexels.com

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