2020: A Transformative Year. The Year of The Great Pause for some and The Great Pain for others
Note: This reflection is based mostly on conversations (verbal and written) with friends much more enlightened than I, and my reading – and video watching – of popular and faith media. I owe these sources lots of gratitude for helping me form my conscience on this topic since the pandemic started. Thus, there is nothing new here. This piece is a manifestation of their guidance, a collective work. Gracias & enJoy!
p.s.: This isn’t about giving anyone – including myself – a guilt trip or a call to action to overthrow earthly dominions. Rather, it is a personal, relational observation on the meaning of the Covid-19 pandemic during 2020. This is not a complete 2020 reflection. Such would have to include the deep dive into the meaning of the killing of George Floyd and the Presidential Elections…. Maybe the next blog postings?
If the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 did not transform you, you missed the memo. To say that 2020 was a year like no other is of course a massive understatement. If you have not taken the opportunity to – regardless of how busy you are – discern the meaning of Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, you may want to consider doing so.
To simply shrug off this pandemic year and say that it was bad would be missing a generational – or once in a lifetime – opportunity to truly go deep into our individual and collective psyche and reexamine our corest of core values. Indeed, it may be that 2020 was much more than a once in a lifetime year. It may very well be that 2020 will stand as a unique year when all of humanity had the opportunity to make individual and communal decisions that would transform each and every person and the planet as a whole. Take a personal pause; examine the pain of others.
When memorializing the year 2020, it would not be hyperbolic to consider this pandemic a historical, theological, humanistic, or sci-fi cataclysmic event.
Historically, never in the history of humanity has there been an event that has so touched every human being at the same time with most people being aware of its global impact.
Major catastrophes of the past – whether man made or brought upon by nature – were confined to an area or region of the planet. You’d have to go back to the ice age or when meteors hit the Earth to find a calamity that impacted all of humanity at the same time. And of course, during those calamities humans living in one corner of the world were only conscious of their immediate surrounding and had no idea what was going on at the other side of the globe. Even during the horrors of WWII some areas in the globe where spared the experience of the destruction and evil brought upon by the worst of humanity.
Theologically a lot could be said about how prophets and events provided humanity the opportunity to amend. And some may say that the events of 2020 were such message.
Of course, we all know that not everyone listens to the voices of prophecy nor do everyone pay attention to the signs and wrath brought by the gods. The theology of most every major faith is full of prophets that were dismissed and killed and of events that might have mended the way of some, but most went back to the old ways eventually, having learned little or corrupting the intended messages.
Humanists would say that we brought this upon ourselves. And unfortunately, in a year that could be interpreted to have meant to have brought us perfect 2020 vision instead it seems to have blurred and confused our capacity to see clearly.
The verdict is still out regarding the possibility that this virus was unleashed as a result of humans encroaching upon landscapes that were balanced. (Some say that had we left those bats alone in the cave everything would have been ok.) Regardless, the virus has unleased and made glaringly obvious the ugliest side of human consumerism and materialism – and capacity for environmental destruction. From a purely humanist perspective, the economy is a mess, and the means and models of production we’ve come to rely on have been seriously disrupted if not broken.
Sci-fi provides yet another perspective. For those of us that are sci-fi fans the year provides a bonanza of themes for movies and mythology.
It is not lost on sci-fi fans that it may very well be the organism that is Mother Earth is fed up and is taking action against a wayward son, humanity. It is as if Mother Earth has sent one of its legions – the virus – to reign in a revolting members species – humans – that have chosen to be consumed by their own selfish endeavors and simply have lost the way of communal well-being.
From whatever perspective we choose to look back at the year 2020, there is a thread that emerges:
Covid has awaken a realization that individualism can thrive only when driven by the common good.
It is of course our individual choice whether to look back at 2020 and discern transformation. We could simply take a deep sigh of relief and look forward to 2021 when things will go back to normal. But meditating on the impact of Covid-19 during 2020 really begs the question:
- Is the normalcy of the past what we want in our future?
Here is a battle that cannot be won by any single historical event, a single prophetic voice, individual human endeavor, or anti-virus magic. Here is a battle that can only be won when we embed in our lives’ actions with the common good as our primary driver.
Some will choose not to read the memo. Others will jump through apologetic hoops and justify a return to the past. And yet others will knowingly refuse to subject their individual pursuits to anything but themselves, making themselves gods.
We live in a common earth. We seek the common good. In relationship we build community.
For those of us in the Christian faith it may be a matter of revisiting and looking at the cross with fresh eyes. Maybe – just maybe – we’ve focused way too much on the vertical pole of the cross, the pole that guides us to a personal relationship with God. Maybe – just maybe – it is time to give equal weight to the horizontal pole of the cross: Jesus with his bruised, bleeding arms wide open telling us to come to him together as one. Maybe – just maybe – it is time to wake up and realize that in the one prayer that Jesus left us – Our Father – there is no “I”, only “us”. (I am certain most every other major faith has a similar allegory to make. Christianity happens to be my Tradition.)
Maybe it is time to shift from “Live and let live” to “Live and let’s live.”
Are we really going to be happy with simply going back to accumulating stuff, ravaging the Earth, and caring exclusively about personal well-being?
Are we really ok with simply going back to warehousing in the elderly, hiding the lowest paying workers from our collective psyche, and investing in a system that is leading us down the road to unsustainable wealth inequalities?
Are we really going to feel comfortable continuing to – without questioning it – participate in systemic injustices, including the inherited biases of patriarchal authorities; obsession with ethnic, racial, and tribal domination; environmental destruction; and classist, wealth-determined power dynamics?
This pandemic seems to have pinned two basic primal instincts against each other.
The human species has the primal instinct to want to be with others. We also have the primal instinct for self-preservation. This pandemic is infringing on our desire for togetherness and testing our willingness to self-preserve by staying away from others. Paradoxically some want no part of the insistence that we stay away from each other for our own good and the good of others. These good folks simply don’t believe that the virus thrive on togetherness and the quickest way to terminate it is for each of us to stay away from most of us.
Complicating matters is the evident lure of the comfort of the cultural knowns and the fear of the unknown. We know how to shop, be entertained, and celebrate en masse. We seemed to have confused these cultural norms with God-given individual rights. We have elevated these economic enticements to religious rituals. “Thou must shop and dine in malls; cheer on your sports or entertainment hero with thousands of others at the forum; and, come together to praise the lord inside churches, mosques, and synagogues.” Never mind that these activities are evidently vessels of the virus. Never minds that hospitals are overrun with patients. Never minds that the elderly and people of color are disproportionately dying. Individualism is one hard habit to break. “Damn the community. It’s all about me.”
The pandemic also seems to have created a clear division among the population, across ethnic and cultural line.
There are those that seek certainty at all costs and cannot deal with ambiguity, as ambiguity shakes their foundational beliefs. Then there are those that understand ambiguity as part of life and certainty as an elusive illusion that constraints expansive thinking and science. These two camps can be simplistically bundled as those that seek “the comfort of the known” versus those that are “ok with not yet knowing it all”. Interestingly these two camps align rather well with our politics in the United States, the Conservative Republicans seeking certainty, wanting life to be set in stone; and the Liberal Democrats seeking inquire, questioning values and norms. Let’s learn from each other rather than entrench ourselves in our corner. Maybe – just maybe – we can grow and understand – even if we don’t agree – by authentically connecting with others that are wired differently.
If the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 did not transform you, please spend the time to revisit it and ask the deepest of deep questions. If it still doesn’t transform you, go even deeper and ask deeper questions. Think it through. Pray. Meditate. Contemplate. Discern.
This is more than the opportunity of a lifetime. This is more than the opportunity of a generation. This is truly a transformative Moment for us all, together and individually.
May our 2021 be enlightened.
Reemberto Rodriguez, December 29, 2020
Comments? Please e-mail Reemberto@Gmail.com