So apparently this was not the season to give up news for Lent. I’ve just been informed that I will need to stay home for at least two weeks. After discussing the issue with my wife, who, with her science background and willingness to avoid the rabbit hole that is mass media in an effort to separate legitimate information from whatever it was that convinced people to buy thousands of rolls of toilet paper, it turns out we are all going to die.
More on that later, but first I want to use this forum to offer some insight into the pandemic itself, along with its cultural repercussions.
For starters, no one needs that much toilet paper. Toilet paper is really not that hard to make; it’s paper. The truck with the toilet paper will be back with more toilet paper. And besides that, it’s a fairly modern invention, anyway, so even if you do get into a situation where you really do not have toilet paper in your house, this is not an emergency. Please stop buying all of the toilet paper.
Secondly, “I can’t believe they canceled the tournament! What’s the big deal? It’s only killing old people,” is not that strong of an argument. Old people are not mice. Besides that, we are not actually living in a world without sports. Sports are still here; pick up a basketball and go dribble off your feet. Public viewing of sports will return. This “canceling-of-sporting-events-thing” has been a real litmus test for our priorities, and I don’t think we want to see the lab results.
Finally, putting the momentary brake on large gatherings of people — the practice known as social distancing, which, as an introvert, I have been perfecting for decades now — only works as a strategy if you actually stay home. This is easy for me to say, of course; my wife and I are both teachers and our kids are too young to have actual jobs. We will basically stay put for a while, with them in the house playing video games and LEGOs while I’m outside in the yard slowly moving sticks from one pile of sticks to another pile of sticks.
However, some amount of “moving about the cabin” is necessary for most people at this point. Treating the absence from school and/or work as some kind of bonus spring break, though, and shuffling yourself and your family from one public place to another, not only defeats the purpose, it could make the problem worse. Social distancing is not about stopping the outbreak; it’s about slowing it down to the point where our health infrastructure, which is already redlining it this time of year even under ideal circumstances, isn’t overwhelmed to the point like it is in different parts of the world, where some doctors have to make choices they ought never need to make outside of a warzone.
Speaking of warzones, the British author C.S. Lewis lived through more than one, first as a soldier during World War I and then again as a civilian during Nazi attacks decades later. After World War II, contemplating the new reality of the atomic age, trying to come to terms, as all survivors were, of now living on a planet where hundreds of thousands of people could be destroyed in moments, he had this to say:
“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’”
In other words? We really are, all of us, going to die someday.
Granted, if you’re young and healthy now, it’s very unlikely you will die of COVID-19, or of the flu, or of any of the other viral infections lurking around every corner.
Health is relative, however, and health is finite.
C.S. Lewis understood that, and he wrestled with it, just as humans will always wrestle with their own mortality. But he also understood, as clearly as he understood that the sun would rise in the morning and illuminate his day, that God was sovereign. He understood that Jesus was real, as a human and historical figure, but also as God incarnate. He understood that Christ offered the gift of not only a life more abundant here and now, but of a life more abundant starting now, and for all eternity.
We are about halfway through Lent, and regardless of where you are spiritually, and especially if you are feeling anxiety, consider giving up a few moments of your day reading God’s word, which Psalm 119 calls “A lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Moving forward, we could all use more light in our lives.