COVID, Crisis, and Compassion

Finding our way in the midst of pandemic pandemonium

Here we are.

Since March of 2020, we have been in the thick of a global pandemic. A rather vocal group of people has continued to call it a hoax, share questionable statistics about the number of deaths and cases, and even question the very experts charged with understanding how pandemic illnesses work.

Eighteen months. A year and a half. And people are still not used to the fact that you may have to wear a mask when you enter a doctor’s office or other places of business. People are still angry as if this is all some new inconvenience.

Here we are.

Vaccines are readily available (and free at that) and we are still unable to say, “Mission accomplished”. The crisis has not been averted. In fact, it still carries on.

All things considered, we are in no better place today than we were last March. The only difference is that now we genuinely have no excuse to be here. Or at least no reasonable excuse.

COVID is only part of the crisis we find ourselves in, though.

Over the past eighteen months, we have watched as black Americans took to the streets to demand equal treatment by law enforcement. We have seen women demand bodily autonomy. We have seen states restrict voting rights. And we watched in terrified awe as the Supreme Court allowed stand an unconstitutional abortion law, a law that allows random citizens to sue other random citizens if they suspect they have helped someone acquire an abortion. A law that only allows the woman to take the stand as a witness.

Pandemic illness. Suppression of rights. And that is not even the whole story.

At an individual level, we have watched as people treat “essential workers” with such a level of disdain and hatred that we have lost the words and the energy to even respond.

My day job is in an eye doctor’s office, and at least once a week we have someone come in and yell at us about something that did not go as they had wanted it to. Things that were clearly outside of our control. Maybe we tried calling them to get more information and they never returned our calls. Or maybe the manufacturer messed something up and there was a delay. And now we find ourselves on the receiving end of some grumpy man’s tirade about how terrible of a job we are doing. Oh, and lest we forget, COVID is a hoax and they should not have to wear a mask in our office, fuck you very much. Never mind that there are children present.

The crisis, which may have started as an overarching global one, has quickly become an individual crisis, and, as a result, has all but eliminated the one thing that stands a chance of getting us through this in one piece:

Compassion.

Compassion is an interesting word in itself. Our English word is borrowed from the religious world, from the Latin word compati (pronounced more like compassio). It means to suffer with.

Co-passio. Passio is where we get our English word “passion”, as in The Passion of the Christ.

Passion = suffering.

Co = with.

Compassion = suffering with.

Compassion means to literally share in someone else’s suffering. To join them in their struggles.

For the past eighteen months, we have all largely been struggling through the very same things. Our places of employment have been understaffed. We have had to deal with the discomfort of wearing a mask to participate in day-to-day tasks. Supply chain issues have impacted every single one of us in one way or another. Many of us have lost loved ones in the past year, whether or not that has been the result of the pandemic.

We have all been suffering together and yet we have somehow forgotten how to share in each other’s sufferings.

We have no compassion for others.

And yet, the only way we are going to survive as a community of human beings is to work together. And working together means we have to work with each other. And that means we have to suffer with each other.

The question is this, and we will dig deeper into it next time: how do we get there?

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Jeremy Zerby

Jeremy Zerby

Hermeneutics, religion, pop psychology, self-help, and culture. They are all connected, and I am here to explain how.