The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed not only the insidious nature of this novel coronavirus but also the strength and endurance of governments and individuals. We hear good news stories every day. We are finding new ways to be together.
Nevertheless, the pandemic has also revealed some of the cracks in the system, social disparities and injustice.
A few examples come to mind. You will have others.
COVID-19 deaths are more common for the working poor as well as recent immigrants. What’s behind the disparity?
How do vulnerable women stay safe in unsafe homes? Are our systems working when such an unprecedented crisis occurs and women and children fear for their personal safety?
Concern for COVID-19 outbreaks in Indigenous communities, already vulnerable communities, exposes an open systemic wound.
Prison systems are also vulnerable communities. How do you practise physical distance in cramped quarters? Inmates have become infected. Inmates have died. How do we treat those who have offended against others with the dignity and the protection they need and deserve?
Then there are the stories of military personnel called in to assist at long-term care facilities only to find some of them are plagued by horrific conditions. Residents have been victims of COVID-19 and understaffing. A huge crack in the system. The Ontario government, however, does seem to be taking action to address the situation.
In the midst of a crisis, what matters becomes clearer. Relationships matter. The irony, of course, is that the highly contagious COVID-19 virus depends for its survival on humans interacting with humans. We need to separate to protect ourselves and others. But in separating we can become more emotionally and psychologically vulnerable. People need relationships.
Recently we have seen there are times when the demands of social distancing are ignored to respond to injustice.
When a Black man gasps “I can’t breathe,” people take to the streets. Voices, muffled behind masks, demand to be heard. Angry people want to be seen. Social distancing is disregarded for the sake of the oppressed.
The response to George Floyd’s death has been a worldwide outpouring of compassion and “We’ve had it! Our system has to be different! Systemic racism has to end!”
We see American police officers attacking peaceful protesters, but we also see police officers walking side by side with protesters, taking a knee in solidarity with the oppressed, acknowledging the despicable boot against the neck.
The COVID-19 virus can potentially be stopped through reliable testing and vaccines. But what about social injustice and its impact on social well-being? There’s no vaccine for racism, ageism, classism, greed and lack of accountability. But there is hope. We can test the quality of our relationships. To test them we need to face them.
Facing the reality of a suffering world does not mean we can immediately change everything. But nothing can be changed until we face it. We cannot do this alone. We need each other to understand the challenges, their impact on individuals and communities, and together find a way forward.
Day by day we continue through the COVID-19 crisis. Day by day we consider what we can do to build and strengthen relationships given the uncertainty and our vulnerability. In light of our hope and faith, the dangers of the current crisis are also opportunities for reimagining how we can be together. But we need to be intentional in how we face very real challenges.
A society’s well-being, its physical, economic, social and mental health, depends on healthy relationships. Relationships cannot be taken for granted.
Let’s applaud those who risk being seen and heard when injustice demands our attention. Let’s find ways to take on the challenge of healthy life-giving relationships and let’s join in and stand together with those standing against oppression. As one example, see Shalem’s statement that Black Lives Matter.
As we consider how we might be called to action, we can’t let a pandemic stop us from addressing the social disparities and systemic injustices it is helping to reveal.