As 2022 unfolds, there are certain daily habits that I will continue to cultivate: eating homemade granola for breakfast; take a hot shower to make sure I’m awake; wear comfortable clothes, even on working days (no tie or suit, except in the event of a funeral); working on a class I teach, a project I coordinate, or household chores; walk outdoors (at least one mile); sharing a puzzle project with my wife; morning and afternoon tea time; check email and Facebook; read fiction before bed (there is more than enough non-fiction during the day).
I am increasingly aware that I have added another routine to the list over the past few weeks. I have to check the score in the log every day. I’ve always followed the Bobcats and Jackrabbits and like to know how they are doing; in basketball, football, soccer, tennis or whatever the season.
But it’s a different score. This is the statistic released by the South Dakota Department of Health everyday of the number of positive Covid cases in the state. The numbers I’m most interested in are the new positive cases in Brookings County (the omicron variant is proving prolific here, with numbers higher than ever) and the number of deaths statewide.
The Ministry of Health divides the deaths by age group. My band is usually the biggest, but a surprising number happened in the 40s and 50s. A death was listed the other day, tragically, in the 1-9 age group.
As an educator and pastor, I have always believed that knowledge is better than ignorance. It is not an option to turn a blind eye to what is happening around us. At the same time, awareness and uncertainty about tomorrow and the day after tomorrow weigh on the entire human community. Now scientists tell us that there is probably more variants to come, and one can see the growing sense of depression and hopelessness about the future.
In these uncertain times, what to do? May I suggest three things that I hope to incorporate into my daily habits as we enter this third year of pandemic perdition.
The first suggestion is to focus more on our own inner life. How is our spirit undermined or strengthened by the pandemic? We might ask ourselves questions such as: how do we deal with complications at home and at work; school closures and virtual learning; understaffed almost everywhere; empty supermarket shelves; prolonged separation from friends and family; travel difficulties?
Or, we might ask, what are my dreams like? Am I frantically running away from something? And again, am I able to practice discernment in decision-making or does the enumeration of pros and cons end up in a miserable mix?
If these questions resonate with us, perhaps we should add some time for meditation or prayer to our daily schedule. Maybe we need a weekend, somewhere where nature reigns and silence reigns. Perhaps we need a fast, a time to feed the spirit as we normally feed the body. Maybe we need regular virtual time with a community of like-minded souls that focus and nurture us. Perhaps we need to cultivate more intensely our encounters with creativity; more music, more art, more good literature.
If our inner life is strong, we will manifest it in what we do. If we are good with ourselves, we can be good with our neighbour. A pandemic requires concerted efforts: reasoning with vaccine resistants; moving pharmaceuticals from profit to sharing vaccines; to transfer dollars from upgraded nuclear missiles to tests, masks and vaccines for all.
If nothing else, the virus should teach us that we are all in this together, worldwide. And you and I, in the wealthiest country on the planet with the highest death toll from the pandemic in the world, could call our country to greatness by ending it.
Third, there is the possibility of small kindnesses. Our action must not be solely that of the citizens, centered on the larger problem. We can be available for small daily needs. We can recognize that those who try to serve us do so under new and difficult constraints.
A friend noted that she had to join the drive-thru queue three times because her dinner order wasn’t ready until the third try. She was patient, grateful that they were understaffed. They were so grateful that she didn’t send anger and hatred their way, they gave her an extra treat.
Send flowers to your healthcare worker. Shower your child’s teacher with signs of appreciation. Thank your police officer or firefighter for their service. Honor those who serve our seniors in care homes. Additional tip to the waitress.
If our inner life is stable and our spirit strong, we will recognize our connection to the earth and to each other. And if we recognize these relationships and stay strong together, the viruses will wither away. We can stop the pandemic with acts of charity, civic action and the cultivation of our inner life.
All three produce Community with a capital C.
Carl Kline of Brookings is a clergy member of the United Church of Christ and an adjunct faculty member at the Mt. Marty College campus in Watertown. He is a founder and planning committee member of the Brookings Interfaith Council, co-founder of Nonviolent Alternatives, a small non-profit organization that for 15 years has provided cross-cultural experiences with the Lakota/Dakota peoples of the North Plains. and caused conflict. peer resolution and mediation programs in area schools. He was one of the early participants in the development of Peace Brigades International. Kline can be reached at [email protected]. This column originally appeared in the Brookings Register.