By Bren Dubay
The coronavirus has been called the “silent enemy.” Is it? Is a virus with protein spikes covering its surface an enemy? It goes where it will, latching on with those spikes to what it can. It does not discriminate. There is no conscious decision on the virus’ part to kill this person and not that person, to make this person sick and this other one not at all.
So, again, is the coronavirus an enemy?
There is a story about Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu. One day he was walking along a narrow sidewalk. It was only the width of one person. A white man, a racist, stepped on the sidewalk at the other end and, as the two men drew closer the white man glared and said, “I don’t give way to gorillas.”
Bishop Tutu stepped off the sidewalk, made a sweeping, inviting gesture for the man to pass and said, “Ah, yes, but I do.”
This is a demonstration of Jesus’ admonition, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and give him the other.”
The bishop did not fight and the bishop did not flee. He turned the other cheek in a creative way.
But can we step aside for COVID-19 in such a disarming way?
Mother Teresa entered a bakery one sultry Calcutta morning. She was in search of bread to feed starving children. When she asked the baker if he could donate some, he became inexplicably angry and spat full force in her face. Mother Teresa responded in the Jesus way. She reached into her pocket for a handkerchief, wiped away the spittle, looked the man in the eye and kindly said, “Thank you for that gift for me, now what about bread for my poor children?”
The baker did not spit again. Mother Teresa’s kindness and resolve grabbed him by the heart. That day and thereafter he provided bread for the children.
She did not fight nor flee, but rather, Mother Teresa responded with a third way. She did not step into the baker’s psychological space, but instead mirrored backed to him his misplaced aggression. In this case, the baker became more self-aware and had a conversion of heart.
Turning the other cheek does not mean becoming a doormat. It does mean creatively employing Jesus’ teaching.
What about the coronavirus though? What if instead of an enemy, it is a mirror reflecting back to us the real enemy? No, it can’t do so consciously, but what if it is serving as a mirror nonetheless?
What do we see — inequity? There is poverty. There is hunger and when hunger is addressed it is too often addressed with food that makes those eating it less healthy. There is inequity in healthcare, in education, in housing, in the way we treat the environment, in the way we think of our elders, in the treatment of minorities, and in the treatment of the poor no matter their race.
Is the above list the enemy? What do I see when I look into a mirror? I see myself.
There is an opportunity here to be creative, refusing to return to normal. My goodness, please let us not return to normal. Metaphorically, COVID-19 has thrown a bright light on the ills of our world. We can see those ills perhaps in ways we have not seen them before.
All this sheltering in place has cleared the air of pollution. Water is blue again and fish have returned to the canals of Venice. Recently, even Congress has worked together in a bi-partisan way. Whether what Congress has come up with or not is the best, there has been more unity and the focus more laser-like.
And each of us needs to stand our ground and acquiesce no more to the inequity, to the violence we heap upon ourselves, upon others, and upon the earth. It demands creativity. It demands not making others the enemy. It demands social change. It demands starting with who we see in the mirror – ourselves.
Did Bishop Tutu make the racist on the sidewalk his friend? Did the baker become Mother Teresa’s friend? We don’t know. But we do know that both the bishop and the saint addressed an ill creatively and non-violently.
Non-violent? A third way? Is this foolishness, impractical or naïve? Think of Martin Luther King, Jr., of Gandhi or of many others who have affected massive social changes. They have done so not by fleeing or fighting. They used a third way. They have followed Jesus’ teaching on the subject of turning the other cheek.
No, the coronavirus is not the enemy. It has simply revealed who the enemy really is. What will we do? We have an opportunity to change. We have a chance to creatively employ Jesus’ third way. I pray to God I take this opportunity. That we all do.