Exiled in Pandemic-Ville
Recently a friend admitted that she had a strange reaction to the coronavirus crisis. “For the last few weeks it seems I’ve taken most of my feelings: sadness, happiness, anxiety, excitement, and put them in a little box in the closet. I’ve told myself that when this crazy cruise ship docks I can have my big feelings again but for now I’ll just go into robot-caretaker mode. But it seems that, like Gilligan’s Island, this is no longer a three-hour cruise. The whole show is going to be about what happens on the island.”
这是一个恰当的比喻。这不再是一个three-hour cruise. Even as regions of the world begin to reopen, things will be very different for a very long time. It is probably for the best that we didn’t know what we were getting into in March, when we put away the book bags and thermoses. But here we are. We can’t box up our feelings until it’s safe to hug our neighbors again. We can’t fast-forward to the good part. We can’t close our eyes and hold our breath until this is over.
This is where we live, for now. The whole show is going to be about what happens on the island.
I am weary of the word “unprecedented.” Along with the phrase, “new normal,” it’s been used an unprecedented number of times this spring. This time is indeed unlike anything else we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. It feels—well,圣经.
As a liberal Christian minister, I don’t read scripture literally. I am particularly cautious about prying biblical texts from their original contexts and plunking them down in the midst of my own world. It rarely works. But these days I can’t help but read my Bible through the lens of the pandemic. The Bible is ripe for analogy: there are plagues and apocalypses, psalms of lamentation and commandments to rest.
Through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah, God speaks to the exiled nation—and not unkindly. It’s more or less a plea for acceptance; this is where you’re going to be for a while, sobe这里。“建造房屋，住在其中，”神鼓励。“植物花园，吃他们生产的东西。就拿妻子，有儿女;采取的妻子为你的儿子，自己的女儿结婚，他们生儿养女。乘那里，并没有减少。但是，寻求在那里我已经向您发出流亡城市的福利，并祈求上帝代表其，在其福利，你会发现你的幸福“。
The exilic to-do list helped the Israelites cope, and the exilic to-do list translates. Annie Dillard famously noted that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”—and this remains true. Even during a global pandemic.
Some folks are literally planting tomatoes. Others are taking harmonica lessons on YouTube. Some are running errands for vulnerable neighbors. Others are advocating for responsible public health policies. Some are giving themselves the grace to be imperfect homeschool teachers. Others are adapting to a completely new way of doing their jobs. Some are organizing birthday car parades. Others are navigating unfamiliar technologies for the sake of seeing familiar faces.
Some are Googling “above ground pools,” and others are telling them not a chance, honey, not even during a global pandemic.
Later in that same passage from the book comes one of the most used and abused lines in the whole Bible. “’For surely I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.’” These words are often quoted out of their complicated context, on the cover of Christian greeting cards and such. They are often taken as a promise that everything is going to be hunky-dory, always. Now I receive them as a hoarse whisper of hope in the midst of our own season of exile.
Maybe it’s another cliche. Nevertheless: we are going to get through this. We will need perseverance and imagination, courage and metaphor (biblical or otherwise). But we are going to get off this island someday.
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