We are in the midst of a global crisis unlike anything we’ve seen during our lifetime. Admittedly, I gave the situation little attention, even when relatives were under forced quarantine in Italy and cases were piling up in California where many of my family and friends live. It’s typical; we often don’t realize the seriousness of a particular issue until it is one we experience ourselves — we can empathize, but can’t fully understand something that hasn’t hit home.
I wasn’t afraid when the NBA suspended its season, or when March Madness was canceled. When I received an email that a child at my daughter’s school had been quarantined, I told myself it was precautionary. Still, when a neighbor who is a nurse in an ER had provided care to a patient who tested positive for COVID-19, I thought how scary it must be for her — but assumed that nurses of all people know how to protect themselves from getting sick.
Once school was suspended in my state and people started to panic, buying up every last roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer pump, my concern was not COVID-19, but instead what I deemed overreaction. Nonetheless, I jumped on the bandwagon and stocked my pantry just in case…although I was too late for the toilet paper.
It wasn’t until Monday, March 16th, when I started to feel the fear creep into my gut. I began to notice how quickly cases of COVID-19 were multiplying. Bars, restaurants, movie theaters, fitness centers, and more all closed in my state at the direction of our governor. As a nation, we were asked to stay home for fifteen days unless groceries or medical attention are an absolute necessity (except for the Bay Area where there is an imposed quarantine). It wasn’t until I was impacted that I realized my irresponsibility these last few weeks.
The fear I felt was not of the infectious disease; but our inability to combat it due to the devaluing of community. Our humanity has been challenged and the structures we engage make us part of the problem rather than the solution; and I very much include myself in this. Particularly in the U.S., we’ve become a culture consumed with individualism giving our attention to what has inconvenienced us, rather than what has caused harm to our neighbors.
It is imperative that we remain calm; however it is also necessary that we recognize our personal responsibility to the greater good. COVID-19 is demonstrating what individualism has turned its back on; none of us are safe if our community is not safe. Our commitment should be to the wellbeing of all; our own wellbeing is dependent upon it. This virus does not recognize borders or walls, nor racial or religious divides. Oppressive structures have caused our communities to crumble; and yet, it is only through a collaborative community effort that we can hope to “flatten the curve.”
We are a privileged nation; many of us do not know what it is like to not have access to what we want and when we want it. However, our choices in this moment are what will determine how many more of our neighbors become ill and how long it will take for our global community to heal.
I am more than fortunate that I am able to work from home, care for my daughter, and continue to earn a paycheck when much of our world is shutting down. That is not the experience of many, including those who are making deliveries to our doors with groceries, take out, and Amazon purchases. As we are practicing social distancing, personal responsibility demands that our actions focus on more than self preservation and recognize that our purpose is bigger than ourselves.
During this time that has demonstrated our deep interconnection and dependence upon one another, we desperately need a cultural shift; a revolution grounded in love that is made up of small collective action that creates positive change. Our current crisis does not allow for the social response that we have seen during other disasters like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. But this doesn’t mean that we are powerless. So what can we do?
I share here a list of small acts that could make a difference in hopes that if you have your own suggestions you will consider sharing them in the comments.
- Take only what you need: Definitely stock your pantries; but do so within reason and leave food and supplies on the shelves for everyone else.
- Be a good neighbor: If you have at risk neighbors and are making a necessary grocery run, reach out and ask if you can pick anything up for them.
- Donate to your local food pantry: Local food banks are struggling as donations are slowing due to social distancing. Instead of donating food, consider a small financial donation via the web — this allows you to do so without leaving your home and gives the food bank flexibility to use the funds where needed.
- Stay connected: With modern technology, although we are physically separated, we can still be supportive to one another through social media, FaceTime, Skype, or with an old fashioned telephone call. And remember, those who have the greatest risk associated with COVID-19, are also those who are often isolated to begin with. A simple phone call could be a great way to offer compassion and support.
- Remain Civically Engaged: Call your representatives and find out what actions they are taking to ensure relief efforts for the community like paid sick leave, how they will increase access to COVID-19 testing, and what they are doing to prepare for the coming months.
- Support Domestic Workers: Nannies, in-home caregivers, and house cleaners are among the most over looked employees and will be significantly impacted by social-distancing efforts. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has created a fund to offer support to these workers so that they can stay home without the fear of financial repercussions. You can donate here.
Gina Messina, Ph.D. is an American feminist scholar, Catholic theologian, activist, and mom. She serves as Associate Professor and Department Chair of Religious Studies at Ursuline College and is co-founder of . She has written for the Huffington Post and is author or editor of five books including Women Religion Revolution. Messina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives of women around the globe. Messina is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @GMessinaPhD, Instagram: @GinaMessinaPhD, Facebook, and her website ginamessina.com.