Reflections While the World Is on Pause

Focus on what's important in times of crisis.

Posted Mar 31, 2020

For Whom the Bell Tolls
By John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

As this post is being written, we are in lockdown in two different cities in Taiwan and Canada. Rarely has the world seemed so small. We have been talking on the phone about the current situation as time zones allow. Within two weeks, the whole world has been turned upside down as a result of COVID-19. As this is being written, Central Park is being turned into a field hospital and a refurbished warship has entered New York harbour to offer help as cases surge in that city.

In trying to control the spread of the coronavirus people are being forced to self-isolate and it has sometimes felt like a forced global spiritual retreat.  An involuntary pause in the normal of hurly-burly of day-to-day life. This has resulted in self and cultural reflection on a mass scale. This time of crisis is clearly showing the strengths and weaknesses in people, political leaders, and cultures. 

It has been truly awe-inspiring to see health care and front line workers leap without hesitation to serve others. Of course, they do this every day, but in these times of heightened risk, they are the human faces of courage and compassion. From doctors and nurses to janitors and grocery store cashiers, our neighbours have been going out to work every day so that society can continue to function. I can’t recall grocery store workers being publicly thanked by politicians before and it has made many of us think about all the people we depend on without recognizing it on a daily basis.

Recently, Dr. Gray Moonen put out a series of posts on heroes in this crisis including a barista, a pharmacist, a janitor, and doctor who are risking their lives every day. There have also been unprecedented expressions of gratitude expressed all over the world as songs and clapping echoes from balconies and front porches from Barcelona to North America.

We have seen countless acts of generosity in cities across the world as people take care of their families, friends, and members of their communities. Many are baking and cooking up a storm as restaurants are also on lockdown. This is partly because they are at home, of course, but also because we turn to our ancestral culture, and familial foods in times of crisis. A friend in North Bay who is Armenian made a huge batch of traditional cookies and has been portioning them out to people. It is remarkable the comfort this can bring in the middle of stress and trying to manage in lockdown.

In her article rejecting any call to be “productive” during this time, Aisha S Ahmad offered advice as someone who has lived through war, poverty, and violence. Focus on what is important, she advises, ensuring your safety and the safety of those close to you first and foremost. She makes a very important point that for many of us we take for granted that we live with ease and all manner of entertainment and conveniences at our fingertips. This is simply not the case for so many people in the world. This experience can be a profound wake up call and a lesson in empathy. As she writes, it is very likely that the world will be permanently changed by this experience and we need to be patient with ourselves and others.

This crisis has demonstrated how profoundly interconnected and interdependent we all are. It has been a visceral reminder to be grateful for things we may have taken for granted. In the Western world where people are increasingly individualist, this has allowed a time of refocusing on the good of the whole. No man is an island — that is something that religious and spiritual traditions have always taught. This has literally come home to us in a very dramatic and shocking fashion. As one of the signs on a store window I passed today on my daily socially isolated walk says: We are all in this together.

References

Aisha S. Ahmad, “Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 27, 2020.

“Taylor Simmons, Front-line heroes: Meet the people fighting COVID-19 in Toronto and share your stories,” cbc.ca https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/front-line-heroes-covid-19-1.5512485