Colleagues and community--
Who will we be when we get past this pandemic? What will we have learned about quiet, aloneness, solitude, loneliness, time, and the Tiger King? Will we be new people, renewed people, changed people, or the same old us people? Will we know more about the power of words to challenge and spur us on to cherish the sound of words that are straining to touch us from a screen or life-preserving social distance?
Because I always tell my students, don’t just do a list of questions, explore them a bit and see what you come up with. I use this last dean’s column (for the summer) to explore these questions that I do not have the answer to, but I think it wise to begin sorting them through as we begin what should be the slow process of moving our lives back to tactile touch. I think that what I understand and feel ever viscerally is the power of community and the importance of thinking beyond our traditional categories about what makes community and to create and sustain it when we no longer have the familiar ways to do so. If I have learned one thing it is the kind of rampant individualism we have slipped into as a nation (and far too many times in our religious households) is not a helpful guide in the face of a pandemic that takes our breath away, literally, and causes stroke and heart attacks and mutates to keep itself alive as it goes about its work as an assassin to the vulnerable.
Perhaps the people we will be will recognize that we got past this pandemic not just with a vaccine but by acting together to stop it. Sheltering at home or social distancing are not easy in a fast paced society like ours. But when we all, or the majority of us practiced it, it slows the spread of the disease down enough for us to give all those working in health care settings a chance to take care of the sick and save lives. Deciding we are invincible is not (and never really was) the key to ending a pandemic much less building a caring society.
It was sobering to see what our inequities have wrought in our society—essential workers, the mostly poor(er) black, brown, and white folk—are not only keeping our cities and vital businesses going, they are paying a disproportionate death tax as victims from the effects of this coronavirus. My hope is that we will be the kind of people who see such things, learn from these things, and vow to eradicate the puffiness of arrogant disdain and then take the steps to do so.
This will be a long summer, but my hope is that we slow ourselves down for long enough to bring healing and health back to our communities and beyond.
Emilie M. Townes
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair
Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society