Can Any Good Come Out of this Pandemic?
A story by Jesuit Father Anthony De Mello traces a series of events in the life of a Chinese farmer.
It begins with the farmer losing his horse — but the horse returns with a herd of wild horses. Then his son breaks a leg while trying to break in the horses—but the broken leg prevents him from being recruited into the army.
After each incident, the farmer receives commiserations on his bad luck or congratulations on his good luck. Every time, the farmer responds: “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”
This story reminds me of what we are experiencing this year. The Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have disrupted every aspect of life.
Some of us have lost loved ones. We live in fear of getting sick and endangering high-risk family members. So many are in financial distress and don’t know how long they can go on without their income.
Looking at 2020, we may be tempted to write it off as a bad year, best forgotten as we wait for life to return to normal. Or we can take the attitude of the Chinese farmer.
He recognises that events aren’t isolated. Everything is connected.
If his horse hadn’t run off, then it is likely that his son would have been sent to fight a war in which he may have died. The initial bad incident resulted in an unforeseen blessing.
However, the farmer is cautious enough to recognise that the last incident is not the end, and that we cannot see how things ultimately play out.
Yes There’s Bad – Lots of It
Similarly, Covid-19 has destroyed everyone’s plans for this year, and some bank balances may not recover. This brings suffering, despair, and spiritual anguish.
Our natural inclination is to avoid suffering, and our tendency is to react with anger, cynicism, and denial, as we’ve seen played out in the recent news cycle.
Seen from this perspective, the effects of the pandemic can only be negative.
The Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote: “Everything is as good or as bad as our opinion makes it.”
Can we really make this situation any better by changing our opinions? Time will tell.
This is a time for inventors. By invention, I don’t mean the creation of revolutionary technology, or a medical cure that has eluded scientists for decades. An inventor is someone who identifies a problem and finds a solution to it.
Our society isn’t working. A few have too much, while billions do not have enough. We work ourselves to death and miss the best years of our lives because we’re chasing professional success.
We have separated our souls from our bodies to such an extent that we don’t even know who we are anymore, adding to the stress of navigating the modern world.
We Are Burnt-Out
And we’re burnt-out. The experts now tell us that we can overcome this separation from ourselves by practising mindfulness and taking up yoga.
These things can help us to restore a sense of the bigger picture, but none of them solve the core problem:
We have put humankind at the service of a global moneymaking system, which can only be sustained by producing more, working more, buying more, and wanting more. At some point that system has to collapse – lockdown almost did that. Humanity can only be pushed so far, and the earth only has so many resources to give.
Perhaps this pandemic has taught us that we don’t need more. What we need is a better quality of life.
What We’re Learning
We’ve learnt this in small ways, such as deriving joy from making healthy home-cooked meals. Travel is impossible, which has prompted us to rediscover our neighbourhoods.
Communities are reaching out to one another. Informal food kitchens have popped up in response to the growing needs of hungry families. Even though money is in short supply everywhere, people share what little they have to help someone who has even less.
Our spiritual lives have also evolved over the past three months. We have realised that Church is about more than attending Mass on Sunday. We miss it, and online Masses go only so far to satiate our physical hunger.
However, we’ve also realised that the Mass makes most sense because of the presence of the communion of believers. We are missing the community, the connectedness, the need for a spiritual life that can sustain us in this time of uncertainty and fear.
Many parishes have used the available media to reach out to their congregations. How much more can these means be used to continue to foster community beyond Sundays when we get back to Mass?
Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for every season (3:1-8). Perhaps the Covid-19 pandemic presents a unique opportunity that allows the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of people to begin to invent a new world.
This pandemic is terribly bad thing. Is it? It may not all be. Who knows?