Once upon a time, I was a Public Health nurse outside of Chicago. There I would visit the migrant laborers and do TB testing right in the fields of green beans. These were not folks who could come into a clinic to be tested and a huge percentage of them tested positive. They lived with very few belongings, with enormous numbers of people sharing a small shack on the farm. Their dwellings went unnoticed for the most part, but I learned to identify them as I dug further into the scene. Just a very short way down the road were elegant, large suburban homes, and people totally unaware of the living conditions of their migrant neighbors. The TB pandemic continues today in places where it is able to hide out.
When I began traveling to South Africa, I learned how deeply imbedded the HIV/AIDS pandemic had become, largely unseen by the average white American. Oprah shone a light on the vast numbers of children being impacted by that pandemic, so it became more visable. After the flare up in the late 80’s in the U.S. which devastated our gay male population, HIV went quietly into the dark street corners, where it remains largely out of sight for most of us. Malaria continues far off in foreign lands, also remaining unseen by Americans.
When we witness a pandemic much closer to home, it has a different impact. It has become impossible to ignore and go on business as usual. It requires each of us to wake up to the unsustainable lifestyle we embrace as normal. The harsh realities begin to sink in as we wake up to how fragile our food systems, health care and economy truly are. This stay at home time, for those of us fortunate enough to have adequate food and shelter, presents an opportunity. While it is tempting to wish things could just hurry up and go back to “normal” perhaps it is more to the point to remain in the enforced stillness in which we may wake up more gently.
The story goes that when people observed the Buddha after his experience of enlightenment, they asked him what he had become. When asked are you a man or are you a god, the Buddha replied, “I am awake.” My prayer today is that millions of us may heed this call for awakening now. Let’s be part of co-creating the new normal in which we walk more gently on this good Earth, with our hearts open to all who dwell here. Robin