What is your most challenging part of the post-epidemic recovery? What still feels unsettled to you? I am still feeling, in spite of the loosening of the lockdown, that I have been through something extraordinary, if not traumatic, in my personal life, in my nation and my whole world. I keep coming back to my need to make more sense of it all, to learn from it, to continue to adapt appropriately. I don’t want to just move on to the “new normal” without some serious reflection and discernment.
I am still pondering how much of the pandemic was simply a biological phenomenon caused by a virus. Or was it a sort of morality play that involved tragic hubris and ignorance? Or was the pandemic a warning that the way we treat each other and the environment is, like the prophetic judgements of old, a kind of ultimatum. (As much as I don’t like ultimatums!) And must we clearly, individually and corporately, really commit to turning our lives around (repent in biblical terms) and head off in new directions? This kind of prophetic directive has always been difficult to hear and obey, and I don’t expect it to be any easier now.
I continue to think about the task at hand as a kind of recovery process. The word “recovery” has two similar but slightly different meanings, but both are applicable to the personal, economic and political process we are now experiencing post Covid-19.
The first definition is the most common: “a return to a normal state of health, mind or strength” which begs the question, of course, what part of “normal” do we want to recover, and what part of the past “normal” do we need to relinquish or reconstitute?
A second meaning of recovery, “the action or process of regaining possession of something lost or stolen” invites deeper reflection on what was lost or stolen from us during the medical uncertainty and the lockdown. What part of our pre-Covid lives did we miss most? We learned we could do without a lot of things, I believe, but what were the parts of our lives that we now see as most essential and worthy of recovering and perhaps transforming? Did we even realize what we had until is was no longer available to us, like getting our house robbed and not knowing what was taken until we missed and needed it?
I think we call agree on some basics: we missed personal fellowship and time with family; the loss of freedom to shop and congregate; the realization that so many kids, especially those who needed it most, lost a good part of a year of childhood and schooling; and we may have missed colleagues at work or the ability to worship in person, among others.
But I think the most important loss was something larger, more fundamental: the loss of control we really have over our lives. We were told the only way to contain the virus was to observe distancing and isolation, behaviors that meant we were “robbed” of our accustomed freedom to shop and visit and travel at will and pretty much have our way in much of our lives (recognizing this was not true of all, of course). The sudden loss of control was a sobering and humbling realization for many of us. And it was also a gift to recover how dependent we are on each other, and for the faithful, how dependent we are on God’s grace when we realize the limitations of our own power over the “principalities and powers” that seem to overwhelm us.
For those of us on the liberal end of our political and ideological spectrum, the pandemic meant that all our wealth and status and privileges were mostly neutralized. Sure, if we had a good place to live and money in the bank it was more an inconvenience, an imposition, or perhaps a passing hardship - at least at first - but as the pandemic continued it felt more and more frightening as we considered how we narrowly avoided so much further chaos and loss. All that we thought protected and comforted us was compromised and off-course from our assumed expectation to be able to plan and regulate our lives.
For those those whose jobs and health and survival needs were so clearly threatened, the pandemic was more a matter of survival, potential economic failure, and possible death. The veneer of safety nets and protections were quickly worn thin. Feeling trapped, I think, they were susceptible to defiance and fighting back in an attempt to maintain their sense of autonomy and integrity. Hence, the debate over masking, for example. And, worse, the pandemic broadened the distance and resentments between those of us who were not seen as sacrificing and struggling near equally - and that goes for the global reality as well.
So what does it mean to “recover” from the pandemic for all of us?
One important part of recovery is clearly economic, both personal and national. The Biden administration is promoting what is actually a second round of big federal government relief and recovery efforts. "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” of 2009 during the Obama administration, and led by then V.P. Biden, is being reprised under the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Act of 2021” (a.k.a. “The Covid-19 Stimulus Package”). Indications are that such a bold plan is required to begin the process of righting the economic and institutional structures badly damaged during Covid. And if it works, and if people are able to again receive their basic institutional, employment and commerce needs, we can recover at least some level of economic “normalcy.”
But the exposure of the limitations of lives will continue to haunt us. The list of neglected and imposing “reckonings” hangs over us: race relations, climate issues, warmongering, infrastructure needs, challenges to democratic voting and elections, wealth disparity, to name a few, and the recovery tasks all seem so much more daunting amidst such a divided nation. As much as I hate repeating this litany, it is important to face the dangers we are facing. Yes, I know we are tired of all this, but those of us who are older especially need to acknowledge and promote confidence and hope to the next generation, perhaps by simply being present with financial support and prayers and encouraging new leadership.
For example, for the past year I have been a member of a coalition that successfully promoted voting rights for those with felony convictions. I was consistently impressed with a whole new way of coalition organizing. Meetings began with the repetition of the values to be observed, a clear agenda, and they are proficiently led by those who are directly impacted by the law, that is, those who had served time in prison. Although I have years of experience in coalition building I had little or no input because I was only peripherally needed. At our meeting to review our work I was pleased that the young leadership appreciated that I was a regular supportive attendee at the meetings but was willing to step back and not critique or interfere as they developed a new frame and style of leadership.
Whatever our personal recovery goals, I am aware that ultimately our recovery will depend on successful transitions to new forms and styles of leadership occurring throughout the country as young people, many of whom come from minority groups, assume more and more visionary control. The new generation seems willing and capable to be part of a movement to recover what has been lost from our nation’s ideals (at least) of democracy and equality, and I am lifted by the encouragement that they are forging ahead with implementing a challenging recovery process. I am confident they will have the vision and stamina to be successful, in spite of the difficulties facing them. I hope you are able to also work with the new generation to see this kind of commitment and hope, and, if not, please explore ways to do so.
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