It really is hard to wait for important changes, and the longer we wait it seems the harder it is to keep waiting. We try and practice an active waiting as people of faith, doing all that’s in our power to help the change to come, whatever that may be. But after we’ve done all that’s in our control, all that’s left is pray for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
We’ve been waiting for something to change for the homeless man who’s been camping outside the east door of the church since May. On December 10th the change finally came. A social worker with the Police Department found a motel room for him, and came with a van to help him load up his things.
It’s hard to wait, when nothing seems to be happening, when we feel powerless to make things different. We can give in to despair, and to self-destructive behavior. Hope is essential to human life. Hope makes us resilient. I think that’s what religious faith does. It reminds us of the power of hope, with stories and words of hope. Today, people of science and medicine are doing all they can to try and inspire hope in us and to use that hope to be proactive today in our waiting: actively protecting our neighbors’ health by masking, washing, and distancing. There are at least two very effective, promising vaccines on the way. Now is not the time to give up our efforts to reduce the virus spread, even as the virus is spreading like wildfire.
Science tells us what active waiting should look like; doing what we can today by masking, washing, and distancing has a direct impact on the immediate future. If we as a community practice prevention, the numbers go down. If we do not, the numbers will continue to rise.
Sometimes I think of Dr. Anthony Fauci as “a voice crying in the wilderness.” Maybe that’s why his voice gets so raspy at times! He’s been saying the same thing over and over again. But not everyone’s listening. Many simply gave up waiting after two months in the spring. Delayed gratification isn’t a strong suit in the American psyche. As a society, we got tired of bending the curve and that’s coming back to hurt us like nothing in recent memory. Recent, because it’s all happened before. All of it, from the denial, to the anti-mask zealots, to the conspiracy theorists who blame other countries for the virus. It all played out in the Spanish Flu pandemic of WWI. Holly Richardson wrote a great column about that recently in the Tribune. To me it’s about how we just plain get tired of waiting, like little kids tired of waiting for Christmas presents so they sneak a peek inside the gift wrapping.
COVID fatigue is something like that; the fatigue of a disease that seems to not be going away anytime soon. And for too many, the voice crying in the wilderness to “prepare the way for the common good of public health,” is just getting old.
“People are tired,” Ms.Richardson writes. “Tired of the ongoing stressors of a disease that might feel like a cold to you, but will kill your neighbor; Tired of the economic impact; Tired of the social impact; Tired of the schooling impact; And tired of trying to do their part when so many are not.”
Ms.Richardson says “history has some things to teach us, if we’re willing to learn. By the fall of 1918, people were tired of the influenza and tired of war. People wrote letters to the editor, dismissing the whole thing as ‘influenza propaganda.’ And if the so-called ‘influenza germ’ was more dangerous for the ‘ignorant and poor’ then so be it.
“There is an entirely different class of people, people who are educated,” one man wrote to the editor. “People who have sufficient earning capacity – who are inclined to do their own thinking – and are consequently less susceptible to the influenza propaganda.” In San Francisco, a mask mandate was put in place by mid-October 1918, as influenza cases started to surge. Around Thanksgiving, the mask order was lifted. But by Christmas, cases had skyrocketed, overwhelming hospitals. The director of public health in San Francisco, Dr. William Hassler, grieved that “the dollar sign is exalted above the health sign.” (another example of a voice crying in the wilderness!). The mask order was reinstated January 10th, 1919 when the city of half a million was seeing 600 new cases a day. What was the result? Protests by the San Francisco “Anti-Mask League” in mid-January; a refusal to wear masks, and a surge in cases that led to one of the highest mortality rates in the country. Utah also became one of the hardest hit. The surge in cases in late 1918 was linked to the end of World War I, and the large welcoming parties that greeted returning soldiers. There we also conspiracy theories at the time that pointed to Germany and believed that they had created the disease in a lab, and released it on the United States.”
It’s amazing to me how little the American psyche has changed in 100 years. It’s not exactly something to be proud of. I think it shows how much room we have for improvement.
“Prepare” says the voice crying in the wilderness. John, the cousin of Jesus, is going to keep crying out not in despair, but with news that should bring hope:
Christ is on the way. Help is coming. God’s saving help is on the way. Now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to double-down on our love for neighbor.
As President-elect Biden is saying, “We aren’t at war with each other. We’re at war with the virus.”
The great day is coming, Psalmist reminds us.
The day is coming when those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed of hope, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
The generosity of our hope for that day is shown by simple acts of self-sacrifice; loving our neighbor as ourselves.
This is the way. The way of Christ. Pr. David