There is a dystopian malaise and lots of hand washing all around the world. In only a few surreal weeks, pandemic contagion and the fear it breeds creeps like the walking dead across the whole planet.
Our ordinary, everyday lives have been interrupted in singular fashion. The world economy is brought to its knees and whole countries are under virtual martial law.
Everything has been thrown into limbo and off balance. As schools, gaming events, and festivals are canceled, hopes and expectations are devastated.
Uncertainty prevails. Turns out, we don’t have as much control over our own destiny as we might like.
The hidden virus has made us more mindful of our one precious (and precarious) life. It has leveled the playing field and displaced all countries, religions and social castes alike. It does not discriminate.
There is a dark, global solidarity. Those whose privilege has given them life choices are learning how those with very little choice have felt all along. We are suddenly refugees from ordinary life, and we seek asylum.
This isn’t all bad: we learn all over again how interconnected we all really are. Our common humanity is very beautiful.
So here’s the question: what happens when the disruptive interruption throws a wrench into our carefully laid plans? How do we respond? Do we let the devil whisper fear in our ear and fight desperately to secure our own place — over and against (and often at the expense) of others? Or do we have the courage to love and help one another in our mutual affliction? Will we have faith when all hell breaks loose?
Two weeks ago, I met classrooms full of refugees from all over the world trying to learn English as a second language. Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) hosts these daily classes at a church downtown. I met recent arrivals from Eritrea, Congo, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, and Iraq. These men and women arrive with nothing but each other.
It takes them hours to navigate the bus system just to make it to class. It’s hard to generalize, but what I observed was astonishing: in the face of fear, bigotry, grief and hunger, these men and women showed what can only be described as the supernatural courage to love and help each other in an epic struggle to survive in an alien country.
I saw a kind of beauty that took my breath away and opened my heart. It gave me the yearning to know, to love, to go towards the other and reach for the beyond.
The courage to love is important for all of us to go forward at this time of fear. iACT’s annual HOPE Awards will validate the courage to love that exists in our Austin community. This year the event will honor certain people and places that make Austin a welcoming place for all: Cookie Ruiz of Ballet Austin — humanitarian of the arts, community advocate and activist; St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church— for standing up for the vulnerable and forsaken; and the City of Austin itself — for its courageous leadership in creating an inclusive and welcoming community in xenophobic times.
We’re all in this together. We need each other. The coronavirus should not make us retreat from doing good together; rather, let’s tap into the supernatural, universal love that gives us the courage to support one another, precisely in times of great stress.
Once we glimpse the universal beauty that is always found in particular acts of courage and love, we are set free from the prison of self and empowered to embrace our common humanity. This inspires us to reach out to and offer asylum to the most vulnerable among us.
If the coronavirus is contagious, so is love! Love is the antidote — may it spread across the globe as quickly as the virus!
The Rev. Stephen W. Kinney is the director of The Front Porch and director of development at Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.