It occurred to me yesterday that if my mother had not taken a bad fall last Wednesday, it could be months before I would see her again. The daffodils in my garden would be long past.
The lockdown here is so complete that unless you are the caregiver or performing some other critical function, you may not enter. When I was stopped and questioned at the gate two days ago, I was told that even my status as her daughter didn’t matter. But as caregiver, following protocol, I could come in.
Not in all her 85 years has my mother been in this much pain. Breaking your back is to be avoided at all costs, trust me! Even with the drugs, she has done more wincing, gripping and crying out in the last ten days than I would want anyone to experience in a lifetime. I would not wish this on anyone.
Except for necessary trips to the bathroom and back, Mom is confined to bed, confined to her apartment. Considering COVID-19, this is not a bad thing.
The situation makes me think about choices. Would I rather Mom have a broken back or struggle through COVID-19? Both are bad, very bad, exceedingly bad. Painful though it is, I suspect she would choose the broken bones.
Tomorrow we have to make a trip to the doctor – insurance dictates that she be seen by her primary physician within seven days of an ER visit. Are such regulations suspended because of the virus? I would rather her not go anywhere right now. What should I do? We are doing everything we can to be careful, but neither of us has been in complete isolation. Either of us could have been exposed to the virus during one of her recent trips to the ER. I am being extremely careful about washing my hands, keeping things clean and not mixing unnecessarily with other people. Were Mom to catch this or any respiratory illness and have to cough while giving the bones right behind her lungs the time they need to heal, the pain would be, I’m sure, at the being-flayed-alive level.
Sometimes the choices in life are not Good or Bad. Sometimes they are Bad or Worse. Sometimes there is no good way forward. Sometimes just The Best We Can. The current global pandemic had made us all think about what’s important. We have all, I hope, weighed the risks not only for ourselves but also for the rest of the world, though it’s hard to wrap your head around the prospects for 7 billion people. One way to do this is to go back to basics.
How about: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
How about: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Years ago I came to a life-changing understanding of Mark 12:31 when I heard it preached about in a church in Kempten, Germany. Until then, I had what is probably a standard interpretation of the word neighbor – someone who lives on my same street or in my same building. The concentric circles around myself started with my own family (in my own house), then expanded to neighbors, then to community, then to town, then to county, state, nation, world. Like this:
This pastor approached the topic by looking at the word neighbor in a different way, and he had the advantage of a different language.
Neighbor in German is Nachbar. Nach means “next to.” Nachbar literally means The One Next To You.
This means your neighbors are not just the people on your street. It means they are the ones you work with, the ones you pass by in the store, the ones who sit with you in meetings, the ones in front of you or behind you in a line or queue. Your neighbors are not (just) the specific people who live in houses or apartments near you, but instead a fluid set depending on where you are.
This less restrictive, more open definition helped me see that while I am at work, my co-workers are my neighbors. While I am shopping, my fellow shoppers are my neighbors. At any time, but especially while we are fighting the most serious pandemic of our lifetime, anyone I come in contact with is my neighbor. Like this:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Reconsider your concept of the word love as well. I’m not talking about love as in “in love.” In English we can get stuck with one word that is tasked with encompassing a wide range of meanings. Greek, the original language of the New Testament, has four words for love: storge (applying to family), philia (friends), eros (romantic) and agape (total love, the kind that changes things).*
Agape love is the kind in Love your neighbor as yourself. Look within yourself to find a way to consider equally what’s best for you and what’s best for your neighbor. We all want to avoid getting a deadly disease. Equally, we should all want to avoid passing it along to someone else. This is the kind of love that will change how this virus spreads.
Follow guidelines. Stay home. Avoid gatherings. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Encourage others to do the same. The only way we can get through this with fewer casualties is for us to get over the hump of delusion that it’s not that bad. It’s that bad! We all have to take it seriously. The St. Patrick’s Day revelers who gathered in bars in cities across the country should be ashamed of themselves.
We have to learn to think in different ways. We have to adopt new ways of being, of moving about, of taking care of ourselves and others. We have to do this now.
*For a somewhat more detailed look at these four kinds of love, see this article.