By Alicia Hughes
We are nearing “Senior Season,” a time in the U.S. where there is a flurry of activity to celebrate the culmination of secondary school careers, with proms, graduations and parties. We likewise look forward to college graduations and hooding ceremonies, launching young adults into professional life, most often in May as a tribute to mothers, frequently around Mother’s Day.
We have just concluded high religious times, where the Jews have celebrated Passover, book-ending the Christian celebration of Easter. The President has declared this a “beautiful time” for us to all to be able to get together to worship again, but no. We were and remain prevented from gathering corporately by a Grinch far worse than the one who stole Christmas: COVID-19. We’re irritated. We’re mad. We’re challenged, but we should also take heart and make the most of this timeout, so that we can grow and change.
This time of social distance provides an opportunity for self-examination that we’d probably not have undertaken on our own. Before this pandemic, I decided to closely examine my words as a Lenten sacrifice. I am blessed with eloquence, but struggle with words, because I too often and too effortlessly use them to pierce hearts and hurt feelings. Today, I work to conscientiously filter my words before spoken, for truth, for necessity, for kindness. I find that very few words pass all three filters. The result remains more quiet and meditation on change, in my choice of words and in my life.
My stillness has brought greater clarity, more humility and hope to inspire others to be better, too.
I write from a decidedly Christian perspective, but what I offer is a task that can and should be undertaken by all people, regardless of their religious affiliation . We face a human problem, and must come together as the human race to “heal the land.” The pandemic is a plague unlike anything in our lifetime. If we view it through a positive light, perhaps we will come to see the coronavirus as an awakening that leads to a needed revival of the human soul. These are perilous times in which to live.
Within the first quarter of 2020, we have witnessed hundreds of billions of locusts swarming in East Africa and the Middle East, threatening health, livelihood and food supply. We have witnessed apocalyptic nightmares in southeastern Australia by way of wildfires killing over half a billion animals, a tornado in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the death of over 125,000 people worldwide due to coronavirus, with more than 1.4 million known active cases and more than 50,000 critical at the moment.
We have stood by in awe as America surpassed China in resultant COVID-19 deaths, as mayors have begged citizens to stop shooting each other to ensure hospital beds can be used for folks ridden with coronavirus and governors have been forced to institute stay-home orders to stop large gatherings, including beach parties. And at its height, one life was being lost every eight minutes in New York City due to COVID-19. Tokyo, Japan flattened their curve only to witness a second wave by prematurely ending social distancing. We are a plagued people, a plagued world.
Please consider the individual change required to receive mercy and collective healing as a people, as members of One World. Our objective should not be a return to normal, but an improvement to what is normal, once we heal. The present is an awakening, an understanding that the World needs a revival. “Normal” was broken, and the present reflects required correction. The World didn’t ask to slow down. COVID-19 and other massive and seemingly merciless disasters have paralyzed our universal systems, forced us into timeout, relegated us to the “thinking corner” and continue refusing us permission to leave it.
While I wouldn’t say we are being punished per se, we do seem to be reaping the harvest of the seeds we have sown. As a dear friend shared with me, “our Glorious Father gave mankind dominion to steward this planet. The childishness of mankind is on full display when we blame God for the consequences we’ve created.” Through this prism, we must accept that COVID-19, painful as it is, is not the work of God against humanity. Rather, it is a plague that has come forth as a result of nature or sin or human failing … or perhaps some combination of all three.
Scripture teaches that God is not a punisher but rather our Savior (John 3:16–17). When we face the penalties of our sins, God meets us in mercy, grace, and abundant love. And what God affords us we are obligated to afford one another as we dig out of this mess.
Second Chronicles 7:14 presents a prescription for digging out of our current global crisis: “[if] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
This is a call that transcends Christianity and speaks to all members of the human family. We are all called to humility and a turn from evil. “My people” referred first to the Jewish people. In Christ, this promise extends to the church. And, indeed, it extends further. Do not Muslims also call upon the one God? Even those with no religion remain God’s creatures, bound up with the rest of the human family. We are one family, one world.
Across the religious and the secular landscape, the human race recognizes (even if we fail to achieve) the need to turn from wicked ways: the need to change.
These instructions apply to everyone. Are we listening? Are we ready to learn our lessons? One such lesson is that artificial barriers are immaterial: COVID-19 is no respecter of persons. Another is we are all interdependent.
Folks in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, America, folks all over the world, are infected, affected, sick and dying. COVID-19 crosses every boundary line: socioeconomic, geographical, gender, race, nationality, age, political affiliation. The spread isn’t contained by closed borders. The rich and the poor are among the dead. Children and the elderly have succumbed.
This presents an opportunity for us to avail ourselves to the awesome love of God. COVID-19 is no respecter of persons, but God is a lover of all persons. And he calls us to be the same.
For this pandemic to be defeated, we must become our best selves. We must change. In addition to washing our hands, staying inside and practicing “social distance,” we must love one another. We must apologize to one another. We must forgive one another. We must help one another so that we may heal one another. And we must rest, recharge, love our families, pray for our enemies, and take time with and be patient with our children. Not starting tomorrow, but starting today. We can rest knowing that God, our Father, journeys with us through our pain and suffering and tells us how to end it. We have free will. Armed with knowledge and time, will we choose to do what is required to end our suffering? Or will we continue to insist on our own way?
So, in practical terms, what would this look like?
Begin now by committing to stop using your mouth destructively. Words hurt and sometimes hinder blessings. Assume everyone is doing the best that they can. We rarely know, let alone understand, the challenge(s) others face. Therefore, it’s best to practice kindness and to extend grace. Remember that only he who is without sin should cast the first stone. That means put yours down or better yet, throw your bag away and pick up the people you’ve hurt. You’re unqualified to throw anything. We all are. That is a turn away from evil.
Accept that people are who God says they are and not what you in your humanness, envy, and small-mindedness want them limited to be or to become based on your insecurity and limitations. That’s humility. Get up off the floor and allow others, in peace, to do the same. That’s mercy. Tell others you forgive them and mean it. That’s grace. Tell others “I love you” and show that you mean it. God requires it.
Cooperate with good in the world, care for the sick, the elderly and the poor. Don’t deprive another of good when it is within your power to do it. And in the end, this means that you choose life over death and value people over things. As has been said, “Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with thy God.” Remember, we have been told, “[if] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Believe it. If we ever needed God, we surely need God now. Do your part. Commit to change today.
Alicia Hughes is President and CEO of Latin Schools of America, LLC and an aspiring mother. She is a former Alexandria (Virginia) City Councilor, a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law and Texas Southern University. She is an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow, a Delegate to the American Council on Young Political Leaders, a University of Virginia Sorensen Institute Fellow and a former Miss Black USA. She attends Trinity Episcopal Parish in Wilmington, DE.