Have you had trouble thinking clearly in the midst of the pandemic?
You and me both. Clarity seems scarce in a crisis, especially now, and the signal-to-noise ratio in the public square is pretty low. So it might help to list a few things that do seem clear (at least to me). Maybe they’ll give us a slightly better handle on this crisis. (Please note: none of the following statements is intended to minimize the others. I think the way to hold these truths is all together.)
We (humans) know very little about the virus. Watch the news and count the number of times experts say, “We don’t know.” Sure, they’re learning more all the time as the available data grows. But so many questions remain. How many cases are really out there? How fast is this virus mutating, if at all? How long will recovered folks be immune?
“I don’t know” is not always to be feared. We already live with it on a regular basis. Think of how much we don’t know about the universe, or even about the human body. We’re always making decisions without knowing every detail. Yet we make them anyway, often successfully. On top of that, honest admission of I don’t know can protect us from lapsing into a dangerous arrogance or complacency.
Many people have suffered, and will suffer, from this virus—directly through infection, indirectly as loved ones contract COVID-19, economically as laid-off workers wonder how on earth they’re going to feed their families. Imagine living in a refugee camp and waiting for this virus to sweep through. The sheer scale of suffering breaks our hearts, and well it should.
The human race will survive this, but it may never be the same. We have survived the Black Death, the Spanish flu, and innumerable other scourges (including wars) that took the lives of millions. That in itself is remarkable. As a recent Economist essay details, however, pandemics can change the course of human history. Sometimes the change is beneficial, like helping to end the feudal system; sometimes it is not.
There is so much more than this. I wrote about this in a recent blog post. If you’re a theist, there is God, who is infinite and whose love permeates the universe. If you’re an atheist, there’s still (as the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer puts it) the “vast expanse of interstellar space,” with sources of awe and wonder everywhere you look.
I find it useful to keep there is so much more than this in the front of my mind. It reminds me that what’s happening at the moment, even when catastrophic, is not all-encompassing. Again, this is not intended to minimize the suffering of those who suffer. But it helps me find a sweet spot where I can maintain perspective while letting my heart break at that suffering.
I’m sure there’s more to say here. What about you? What seems clear to you, and how does it help you gain perspective?