Oh, America. We’ve all seen it in the media. Impatient people demonstrating to end the quarantine. Demonstrators claiming that their jobs are just as “essential” as those of nurses and doctors. Demonstrators blocking traffic in front of hospitals. Demonstrators claiming that COVID-19 is a hoax. In all this media frenzy, this picture caught my attention more than any other.
I stared at this picture for quite a while. I tried to find her name. I stared some more. I thought, Wow, how unbelievably heartless. And then I wondered, Is she serious? Can she really feel this way? Could anyone really lack compassion in that magnitude? I stared some more. Then, I wondered…Perhaps she is a “plant.” Perhaps she is intentionally stirring the pot.
You will notice, she is the only one in that group masking her face. She is covered enough to where only those who really know her, might recognize her. She is standing away from the rest of the group. She didn’t speak to the media. Thinking she may be a plant isn’t wishful thinking. For me, it is simply the realization that the antagonism of this pandemic, is alive and well, in every way possible. More, if a pandemic could talk, it would say, Here I am! You’re not escaping me in any way, shape, or form. I am here. Lurking.
Staring at this picture some more, I continually return to the idea of Sacrifice and what that really means to us. We’ve heard that word a lot in the last 2 months. I am thankful to live in California, where Governor Newsom is doing an outstanding job trying to keep us healthy and alive. All over the world we are hearing, We must do this – we must sacrifice our way of life right now, so that others will live. That is really what it boils down to. This short blip, which does honestly feel like a very long time, is just a minute in our lifetime. Yet, the repercussions of this blip, will remain with us for years.
While I understand the utter and undeniable fear, I am astounded, however, at the lack of compassion for sacrifice. At the selfishness around sacrifice. At the unethical, nonchalance of those who say, This is my right and I am privileged enough to get in my car and drive around honking my horn and I want to “go back to my life again.” It is clear that these folks have most likely never really had to sacrifice anything, for themselves, let alone, people they may not even know.
You know how I view this? I may not know all my neighbors, but, if I am out and about, not caring, not washing my hands, not masking up, and I touch something that then infects someone I don’t even know – and they die … that follows me. For the rest of my life. The person who might die if I am careless, that unknown neighbor – becomes almost tangible. The death of someone else, because of me. Latching on to me. Wrapping its arms around me. Relentlessly whispering in my ear. Thanking me. For giving it life.
Sacrifice. This isn’t to say that this isn’t hard. Graduations, weddings, parties, funerals, special moments – cancelled. Yet, they won’t be cancelled forever. We won’t be in quarantine forever. Unless, of course, these folks keep gathering and spreading the virus. Then, it will be longer. I am confused about the lack of common sense. And more, I am confused about the lack of ethical thought processes. The lack of morals. The lack of care. The lack of understanding.
Sacrifice. What of the people on the front lines, literally sacrificing their lives to save others? Do they not matter? First responders. Medical personal. Grocery store employees. Amazon employees. Truck drivers. Those who feed the homeless. They are the ones who epitomize sacrifice. They are the ones who antagonize the notion of what it truly means to be human.
Which brings me back to this picture. I think, like the pandemic itself, this woman is an antagonist. For which “side, I have no idea. And, even if she’s not, even if she really feels this, her sign screams – Antagonist! Her message represents all that’s wrong with us. Yet, as I stare with remorse at this sign and wonder about its intention, I think about its deeper message: Sacrifice the Weak. Don’t we already do that? Don’t we already let those who are unhoused, remain unhoused? Don’t we let those who are hungry, remain hungry? Don’t we let those who are trafficked for sex and slavery, remain chained? Don’t we let those who are seeking a better, more prosperous life, remain floating at sea or dead in the desert? Don’t we let those 18,000 children that die every day around the world from malnutrition and disease, remain alone in their demise? Don’t we let animals suffer at our hands, so we can BBQ them? Don’t we continue to pillage the earth’s resources, so we can ask Alexa to play our favorite tune? Don’t we continually disrespect our elders and even in a pandemic, horde food, so that they have none?
We humans sacrifice the weak on our planet every single day. This is nothing new. We are just finally acknowledging it. Or, really, the pandemic is making us acknowledge it, because that’s what an antagonist does. This is us. This woman’s message as tragic as it is, resembles us – collectively and individually. Maybe that’s why I just can’t look away.
Yet, there’s hope. Here is another example of sacrifice and the antagonism of this pandemic. Earlier this week in Denver, medical personal stood their ground, spoke for those who can’t speak, enraged the selfish and the weak minded, and made me understand even more what this sacrifice means. They stood. While we watched. From the safety of our homes. They continue to stand and treat us, even when we turn on them.
COVID-19 has literally brought every one of us to our knees – in prayer, in heartache, in compassion, and in sacrifice. Our response is everything. Our sacrifice is literally saving lives. How is this not a good thing? Yes, the staggering economic ramifications are terrifying. Yet, as I view this picture against the other, I have an even deeper understanding of what it means to be human. What it means to truly love one another. What it means to recognize my humanity, in the humanity of all those around me. This isn’t just a sacrifice of our freedom. This is literally a sacrifice for our lives. Every single life on the planet. In that astonishing fact, I wonder – is this God’s ways of antagonizing us? Of waking us up? Of helping us see? I’m not sure. All I do know, is this is a very hard lesson. This is not easy. This is exhausting. Yet, this is a sacrifice I am willing to maintain for as long as it needs. Because, the reality is, this isn’t about me at all.
Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist.