Becoming the Helpers, Healers and Caretakers

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We are meant to be social. We form communities. We join groups. We have friends. It is the way of being human. Suddenly we have been forced into a state of isolation by a virus that is not even visible to the eye but which may lurk in any corner through which we pass. This fact changes our plans, cancels traditions, upends our lives. We watch as our world appears to be descending into chaos and confusion. We just want to go back to normal but it feels as though our efforts to do so are thwarted again and again. We are disappointed, confused, sad, maybe even angry. We want to blame someone. Surely we should be able to rise above all of this. Who is at fault? When will we feel safe again?

The times are like no other even when we desperately attempt to make them so by ignoring or even doubting the evidence before us. We think that if we just stay positive and talk about something else we may find a semblance of the world as we wish it to be. We wonder why people cannot just focus on prayer and happy thoughts. We want to be calm. We want serenity now. We cannot understand why some among us insist on stirring up trouble. We want lazy summer days and laughter. We are tired and scared even though our bravado attempts to tell a different story.

We have people using this moment to demonstrate the magnificence of humanity. They are helpers, caretakers, healers. They are compassionate, selfless souls. They use this time to do the heavy lifting that keeps our society working as much as possible. They faithfully carry on even as they know that there is danger in doing so. They cure and nurse and teach and cook and clean and deliver and complete the payrolls. They make things, build things, repair things. They wear masks and wash their hands and follow uncomfortable guidelines out of the love that is apparent in their work. They face the problems that they encounter not to glorify themselves but to celebrate the value of every human being.

We also have people who are sadly using this moment in selfish ways. They stir up hate and divisions to cement their own power. They sow seeds of discontent. They appear to be unconcerned by the needs of others. They engage in false dichotomies and blame. Instead of taking positive steps to be part of the solution, they spend their time accusing others of bringing a scourge on our land. They point to the worst aspects of every situation rather than focusing on what is working and what is good. They seem to be tone deaf, insensitive, uncaring.

We know that our present state of fear and unrest is unsustainable. We will eventually have to face down the demons that plague our society whether they be microbes or beliefs. We might learn from the helpers, caretakers and healers. No problem is ever solved by being ignored and some difficulties require much patience, hard work and even pain to overcome. We might begin by agreeing to be guided by goodness rather than self centered motivations. We may need to make uncomfortable changes to set things right. We will need to look ahead to the future while learning from the past. We will do well to rely on the kind of experts and knowledge that have moved humankind forward in the past. We must be willing to open our minds rather than clinging to outmoded and ineffective ways of doing things. A brighter future is possible but only if we set aside ignorance and hate.

I am an optimist but that does not mean that I only allow happy thoughts to enter my mind. Sometimes I have to walk through darkness before I see the pinpoint of light ahead. I am religious but I also believe that our institutions devoted to the praise and glory of God are sometimes too rule driven and not centered enough on the preciousness of people. Just as I do not think that it is right to take the life of even the unborn, so too do I see it as our duty to fight for justice for anyone on earth who is being abused by word or deed. In our own country we have too long found excuses for the deplorable treatment of an entire race of people who were brought here in chains. We may not be guilty of racism of our own but we have certainly been guilty of allowing the continued glorification of those who fought to keep slavery alive. We must be as willing to admit to that wrong as we are willing to confess our personal sins. It is our duty as believers in the words of Jesus to finally embrace our Black brothers and sisters with the unconditional love that they deserve.

The truth is that we are now engaged in a battle for lives being attack by Covid-19 and lives being attacked by continued “isms.” If we are to become a greater nation of the kind imagined by Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we must stop fighting with one another. We need to proudly don our masks out of love. We need to value the life of every person on this earth out of love.  When we see or hear hurtful behavior we must decry it out of love. We must become the helpers, healers and caretakers out of love. 

The Walking Dead

the-walking-dead-zombiesI’m not exactly someone who might be called a trendsetter. I’ll be celebrating my sixty eighth birthday in November and attending my fiftieth high school reunion in October. Still I’m not a fuddy-duddy either. I eventually made it to Facebook albeit at about the time that many young people were losing interest in it. I even opened a Twitter account but still haven’t unlocked the secrets to participating in its fast paced chatter. I try to keep up with the happenings in the world and I have a somewhat modern tolerance for the outrageous. I even read the Fifty Shades of Grey books and disliked them not so much because of the storyline but because the writing was atrocious. I often get suggestions for staying with it from my younger friends and former students. They have guided me to some of my all time favorite movies and television shows.

I would never have seen Breaking Bad were it not for my younger consultants so when they also urged me to watch The Walking Dead I should have at least given the first episode a try. Instead through six seasons of one of the top rated series I held on to my smug belief that my intellect was far too superior to be drawn in by what appeared to be a silly plot about zombies. Even when my granddaughter insisted that I was misjudging the program I withheld my openness and mentally noted that she is only a middle school student who in spite of her intelligence still doesn’t fully understand the world and how it works. I reluctantly sat with her one evening to watch a selection from the sixth season and I was so hopelessly lost that my interest was not piqued in the least. It took a visit to Universal Studios and The Walking Dead house of horrors to plant a tiny bug of interest in my brain.

I became intrigued at the theme park as we walked through a recreation of the desolate atmosphere depicted in the popular series while the strains of The Walking Dead soundtrack created a realistic sensation of apocalypse and dread. I had to admit that I wanted to know more about this show after that experience so that I might understand why some of the most intellectual people that I know are huge fans, including my rocket scientist and totally rational brother. When a two week long rainy season kept me from venturing too far outside I found myself with some free time and a sudden desire to see what everyone was applauding. After viewing the first episode I was hooked and I have spent time here and there attempting to speed watch the series so that I might be ready when the seventh season airs in October.

Perhaps I am reading more into this program than is supposed to be there but my English major background has led me to think rather deeply about the story and its characters. It is a dark tale of a dystopian society that has broken down as badly as the island inhabited by the choir boys in Lord of the Flies. Those left to deal with the aftermath of a deadly disease that somehow both kills and brings people back to life have to embark on a complex heroes’ journey in which questions of right and wrong, good and evil are never easy to answer. The survivors are forced to revert to a hunter gatherer kind of existence where their lives are uncertain from one moment to the next. They have to reimagine the definition of life, political systems, the greater good. It is as though they are the first of our species who have been expelled from the Garden of Eden to fend for themselves, only this world is even more dangerous than the one that Adam and Eve had to face.

The Bible has a subtle but constant presence in the story. There are characters like Cain and Able, one time friends and brothers who differ on how to deal with the realities of the situation. We see a symbolic Moses who only reluctantly accepts the mantle of leadership and makes horrible mistakes in the process. We find both sin and redemption. It is as though the entirety of the human story is being replayed with challenges not unlike those that mankind has faced before, albeit without zombies.

We only get hints as to what may have caused the illness that so quickly overtook the world. In fact, since the story mostly plays out in a rather limited area where all communication has been lost we are never completely certain that the problems exist all over the world. A kind of hopefulness remains that somewhere, somehow the people fighting so hard to carry on will one day find the safety that seems so elusive.

I still have three more seasons to watch. I don’t want anyone to spoil the story for me and I don’t intend to give away anything to those who have not yet tuned in to this remarkable series. I have become emotionally attached to many of the characters but I keep thinking about something that one of my professors said when I was taking an education psychology class many moons ago. She remarked that it was not until the twentieth century that societies became so focused on issues of children. Sadly the mortality rate among the young had heretofore been so high that most parents understood that they might lose some of their kids before they became adults. My own grandmothers each lost two babies of whom they never spoke. They had steeled themselves against the realities of the way things were. We, on the other hand, more often have the luxury of modern medicine and conveniences to make death a less common part of our existence. We allow ourselves to become very attached to the people that we know and love believing that they will in all probability have long and fruitful lives. Those who die young have become the outliers. In The Walking Dead the possibility of death is as constant as the fight for life.

I suspect that we are drawn to stories of dark dystopian worlds because somewhere in the recesses of our minds we believe that in spite of all of our progress it would not take much for society as we know it to collapse. History has shown us that once cultured and advanced nations are capable of devolving into horror. Our hope lies in the fact that when pushed to the wall the better spirit of mankind somehow finds ways to defeat the darkness. We are an imperfect lot that has warred and enslaved and murdered but we keep trying to get things right. Our lives can at times be brutish and we can feel as though we ourselves are surrounded by walking dead, unfeeling, unthinking creatures who bear only passing resemblance to humanity. Our challenge is to keep the lights of our better selves burning and we know how difficult that may be. Still we soldier on mostly attempting to do the right thing. That is what differentiates us from the beasts.