Someone has observed that Americans play at their work and work at their play. It’s interesting how shutdowns for the coronavirus has inconvenienced both our jobs and our recreation. Note the businesses that are struggling: restaurants, travel, sports, hair salons, and campaigning politicians. The workers that helped us play are now resting. While those whose work is essential to our survival are being stressed to the limit. Pandemics are not kind to those who work behind counters, or clean, or care for the sick. Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle. I am stressed with concern for loved ones whose age and preexisting conditions put them at risk. But I’m an introvert and have found certain guilty pleasures in this time of social distancing: I’m catching up on reading and old movies. There are meetings I haven’t had to go to, and I rather like having long hair again.We played the flute for you, and you did not dance
The religious question beneath all this is; has the current crisis taught us to be more compassionate? Jesus once alluded to a kid’s game that children still play today. In his day it was called “funerals and weddings.” Today, children play musical chairs and Simon says. The game involves everyone doing the same thing. It may be pretending to be at a funeral or dancing like you’re at a wedding. Then suddenly the leader announces a change. In musical chairs, people scramble to sit down. In funerals and weddings, people shift their song from a major key to a minor one. In the coronavirus shutdown, those involved in sports and leisure, rest. Their dance stops. Those whose work is essential, work harder. Unfortunately, that includes ICU nurses and gravediggers.
The virus is more than a child’s game. It tests our faith. It challenges our courage. It calls us to a new level of compassion. What it shares with the ancient funerals and wedding game is the need to be flexible. Here is where we struggle. Our country was slow to listen to the science that could have mitigated its spread. Our government was quick to bail out industries and worry about the economy, and slow to worry about people. Food and shelter for those forced to stay at home. Daycare for those who had to work. Retraining for the long-term adjustment which we are now entering. Our question should not have been: “when can we go back to normal?” But rather, how do we adjust to this new reality?
A personal example: I know a bartender who spent the last week telling customers to wear a mask as they entered the restaurant and proceeded to the designated tables and outdoor seating. They fought her every step of the way. They complained about this imposition on their freedom. By the end of her first shift, she felt physically ill. She continued to go to work each evening, though. Working sick is not the adjustment we desire in this crisis. But she does not have the freedom to quit.
The Bible calls us to compassion. As we adapt to our personal misfortunes, we ought to gain wisdom to respond to the misfortunes of others. Our first response to a crisis may be to say, “why is this happening to me?” Religion offers other responses. What can I learn? How can I help others when their dance turns to a dirge? Is the meaning in life, beyond our current work and play?