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From the Chapel — May 18: Be the solution

Our Sunday Visitor chapel. Scott Richert photo


“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.

On one of my Facebook posts today, a friend out in Washington state noted that she knew many people over the age of 60 who are concerned about going back out into society as restrictions ease. They regard people who are refusing to abide by social-distancing guidelines, she noted, as “hostile.”

Another person, who believes that the best approach to the spread of the virus is simply for everyone to get it and let God sort them out, commented that these older folks should have nothing to worry about from people such as him, because obviously the folks over the age of 60 will continue to stay at home. It was a moment that threw into stark relief some of what’s at stake as we try to restore some semblance of normal human interaction (even if life as we knew it isn’t returning for many months or even years).

Whatever one might think about the prudence of easing restrictions in a particular area, and about the role of personal responsibility in deciding whether you should be resuming public activities even if your state and local authorities say it is OK, we all ought to be able to agree that no one should have to avoid leaving home because others are unwilling to follow guidelines that public health authorities have developed in order to keep most people relatively safe.

And yet, when I pointed this out to the second commenter, he responded by calling the older folks “the complainers.” He refuses to restrict his own actions to help others feel more at ease in rejoining society.

Yesterday, in a slightly different context, I wrote, “the members of a true community recognize that their real security lies in helping their neighbors when they most need their help.” In that case, I was talking about going out of your way to spend your money at locally owned restaurants and stores — something that may be an inconvenience and might even drain your wallet a bit more quickly. Staying 6 feet away from an elderly woman on her biweekly shopping trip, or wearing a mask at church so that she feels more safe in rejoining her congregation — these actions cost you nothing, except a blow to your willfulness and your pride that will, if borne in charity, make you a better person.

The elderly, those with underlying conditions, the people who have reason to be concerned with contracting COVID-19: They are our friends and family and neighbors and co-workers. They are part of our community. If your response to guidelines developed to help them stay safe is to push those folks to the margins and demand that they continue to stay home so that you don’t have to change your habits, then you’re not part of any community.

The solution to restoring some semblance of normal activity in the wake of COVID-19 is to embrace community. If you refuse to do so, you’re not the solution; you’re the problem.

Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.

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