There are a lot of things in this world that are contagious. Certain viruses and diseases come to mind, as do laughter and yawning.
There have even been cases of contagious dancing, such as the “dance epidemic” of 1518 in Strasbourg.
But did you know that fear is also contagious?
A friend of mine was telling me how she organized a backyard sleepover in a tent for her daughter and some friends a few years ago. The children were assured that the parents would be with them in the tent all night long.
The kids were excited about this adventure, and all seemed to go well at first. Eventually, however, one little girl became afraid of the dark. It didn’t take long for another girl to become fearful as well. Pretty soon the whole thing had to be called off, despite the parents’ promises that they wouldn’t leave the children outside alone in the dark.
The other kids had “caught” the fearful attitude of the first child.
Scripture recognizes how destructive fear can be when it contaminates a whole group.
Has this pandemic made you fearful? Are you afraid that you or your loved ones might catch the COVID-19 virus? Are you nervous about even going out in public? Afraid that life will never be quite the same again?
For many of us, the coronavirus crisis has only added to our list of things to fear. As if we didn’t already have enough things to be afraid of!
There are fears common to many of us, such as fear of spiders or snakes, fear of public speaking or fear of falling.
Then there are the more unusual phobias, such as fear of clocks or clowns, balloons or buttons, and even beards. (Full marks to you if you know that triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number thirteen.)
There’s no end of things to be afraid of in this world. But is fear always bad?
No. God gave us the emotion of fear: it’s there to save us from danger.
But we need to differentiate between good fear and bad fear.
Once the worst of this pandemic is over, psychologists warn that many of us may suffer from post-traumatic stress for some time to come. Some of us will have lost a job, seen our business close down for good, suffered isolation and loneliness, or may have even lost a loved one during the COVID-19 crisis.
But is PTSD a given in these circumstances? Is there different outcome that can occur, an unexpected benefit that may arise out of these difficult times?
Psychologists say yes: there’s such a thing as post-traumatic growth. It’s been found in survivors of war, cancer, and natural disasters. Some people emerge from a crisis with increased spirituality, a greater sense of personal strength, new priorities and closer relationships with others. What could have broken them actually made them better.
This phenomenon reminds me a bit of “sea glass.” Sea glass, or beach glass, found washed up on shores, starts out as merely cast-aside pieces of broken glass. Perhaps they’ve been tossed overboard from a ship, or thrown into the sea from land along with other garbage.
These shards of glass endure years of being buffeted against the stones of the sea bottom. It seems like they’re being dashed about mercilessly by the relentless action of the waves. Surely no good could come of this?
There’s something strange about the crisis the world is undergoing right now: from the outside, things look surprisingly normal.
If you view the streets of your town during this pandemic, most things look the same as they did before. The buildings are intact, the streetlights come on at night like clockwork, and the spring flowers are blooming. This isn’t a crisis like a flood or earthquake, where the devastation is plain to see.
The COVID-19 crisis seems almost invisible, until you realize that something isn’t quite right when you look around: missing from the scene is the normal hum of human activity. The workplaces are shut, people aren’t in restaurants, and children aren’t in playgrounds. An eerie quiet pervades most areas.
It’s only when you look behind closed doors that you see the devastating impact of the pandemic. The high death toll in some nursing homes, the stressed out health care workers, and the loneliness of self-isolation.
When we have a crisis of our own, like depression or despair, we can look a bit like those intact buildings. Things look normal from the outside. When people look at us, there’s no evidence of the turmoil raging within.
I did. I loved taking it in my hand and shaking it to see the sparkly fake snow whip up into a blizzard around the little figures inside. I knew that the snowstorm was limited in scope, however, and would soon settle down. I had the globe in the palm of my hand, after all, and governed events inside.
But imagine the snow globe from the perspective of the tiny “people” inside it. From their vantage point, all they can see is whirling whiteness that seems to have no end. They’re blinded to the fact that outside their little bubble, there’s no storm at all: everything is calm and under control.
Life here on earth can be a bit like living inside a snow globe, can’t it?
During this worldwide crisis, many of us are concerned about the changes that are being wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We wonder what the world will look like once we emerge from the lockdowns.
Will life truly return to the way it was before? Will there be thousands of small businesses that will never reopen? Will we ever be able to gather in large crowds like we did in the past? Will the way we “do life” have changed permanently because of this pandemic?
It’s at times like these that we need something that never changes, much like conifers. During the winter, when deciduous trees are bare, I’m thankful for coniferous trees. These loyal friends, like the spruces, pines and firs, still have their mantle of green, which they’ll keep year-round. These silent sentinels might not be flashy, but we can count on them not to change.
For over a century, two marble lions have guarded the main branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. These majestic stone creatures flank the entrance to the building, keeping careful watch over all who enter.
During the 1930s the library lions were officially named “Patience” and “Fortitude” by then-mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He felt that those names embodied the qualities that New Yorkers would need to survive the Great Depression of that era.
If ever there was a time when New Yorkers (and indeed all of us) again need patience and fortitude, it’s during the COVID-19 crisis. New York has been struck particularly hard by this pandemic, but they are pulling through in large part thanks to the selfless health care workers who have done their utmost to guard the health and welfare of those under their care.
We still need guardians, don’t we? Particularly during times like these.
As hundreds of millions of us are shut in our homes, nervously monitoring the news for the latest updates on the coronavirus, we’re also dealing with an unexpected side effect of this pandemic:
Many of us are gaining weight as we turn to comfort foods to calm us.
This is perfectly understandable. We’re in a global crisis right now, with the news getting worse day by day in some countries. Who would blame us for reaching for cookies, ice cream, fried foods or nostalgic casseroles to console us, even if they can only do so temporarily?
But is there a more lasting source of comfort, preferably one that’s low in fat and calories?
During the past week hundreds of millions of people around the globe have been told to “shelter in place,” a phrase normally reserved for natural disasters or violent attacks. In today’s context, it means to stay at home for a certain length of time to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Good advice. But what if it’s your heart that needs shelter? Where can you go when you need protection from emotional distress?
The Bible speaks of a shelter that believers can turn to when events threaten to overwhelm us:
Thanks to COVID-19, we’re living in conditions that are almost unprecedented for many of us. Large swathes of the globe are living under the types of restrictions that many countries haven’t seen since the Second World War.
Students of history might be seeing additional parallels between the current pandemic and conditions during World War II. They might be calling to mind right now Winston Churchill’s famous line from a speech he delivered to the UK House of Commons in June of 1940, shortly after he became Prime Minister:
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”
Amid the news reports of hoarding and panic-buying, there are also some uplifting examples of people rising to the occasion and showing care and kindness to others.
Allow me to share with you some accounts of what may be some people’s “finest hour”: