Now is the time for community solidarity –
Western People – 23.3.2020
I’m ‘cocooning’ at the moment. I’m taking the hint from Leo Varadkar that soon elderly citizens with underlying illnesses – I’m one of those – will be asked to stay at home for several weeks as the government continues to grapple with the corona virus.
I want to get used to it because it takes a while for the elderly and the vulnerable to get their heads around what’s happening. Instead of just getting on with it and making the best of it we can fry our heads with questions that no one knows the answers to: how long is ‘several weeks’? When will the worst be over? What’s going to happen next? How long is a piece of string?
The answer to all of the above is nobody really knows.
It’s an answer that doesn’t suit us. We’re not used to it. We have tidy minds so, like Dryden, we expect everything to have a beginning, a middle and an end. We also expect politicians to lie to us, especially when the lie makes us feel better.
But things are different now. Varadkar is telling it as it is, though lacing it with encouragement and reassurance, as he needs to do. Like a trusted guide, he’s letting us know so that he can bring us with him on a long and winding road. And, at the same time, hitting all the right adult notes – hope, transparency, reassurance, telling the truth.
There are three legs to this stool. One is that sacrifice in the short term will slow, though not defeat, the virus. Another is that we need to be resilient in the face of uncertainty. And a third is that the younger half of the population will need to care for the older half of the population. For a change, the minders need to be minded.
The theory looks good – in theory – but, it has to be said, the signs are fairly ominous. If oldies like me are expected to ‘cocoon’ in our homes for several weeks – to self-care and not to take any chances with our health – and we’re struggling with that challenge, the young will take even more convincing to sacrifice their sport, the weekends away, the gym, the nights out, the pub and the rest of the social outings.
As we know, ‘sacrifice’ isn’t the first word on the preferred vocabulary of the young who are used to wanting and getting their own way. Social distancing from their friends has little appeal. Staying at home with nothing on the telly and parents on the sofa seems a bridge too far for our hitherto cossetted youth.
From Varadkar’s comments, it’s clear that this problem has not gone unnoticed. Speaking directly to the young he suggested that every day young people should ask their parents what they (the young) could do to help them. That oblique, astute comment indicates that Varadkar and his advisors sense where the fault-line is in the present plan.
It’s taking the elderly and the vulnerable some time to get our heads around our rapidly changing circumstances : the numbers with the virus accumulating by the day; the challenge to the health system; the loss of jobs; the debts that in time will have to be repaid. But convincing the young to buy into the sacrifices they will have to make may be even more difficult.
Because where the elderly can resonate with short-term sacrifice for long-term gain, the young seem to have missed out on that particular weapon in their arsenal. Entitlement to absolute happiness now and forever is a foreign country to the elderly but part of the very air the young breathe because they have never known anything else. Everything was always going to get better.
So much depends on how, as a people, we respond to the challenges facing us and whether our traditional ability to pull together to do what has to be done will serve us in the days and weeks and months ahead.
At the same time we have a history in Ireland of impressive community solidarity. When young families lose a bread winner, people instinctively gather in support: if a child needs a life-saving operation in America the funds are gathered; if a widow struggles to cope with the loss of her husband, her friends organize a relay of support for her; if someone is a long-stay patient in a distant hospital neighbours will drive a wife or a husband or a parent to Dublin and back.
A stunning example of that solidarity was the answer the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, received to his call for health workers to come forwards – 24,000 in one day.
In the days, weeks and months ahead community solidarity will be a vital stepping-stone in difficult times.
Another stepping stone is the deep faith of many people who will turn instinctively to God who in the midst of our distress is a firm anchor, when our courage begins to fail a source of strength and reassurance and a comfort and solace when the other stepping stones of life seem to be giving way.
Hope is a recurring motif for the Christian person because even though we can live without faith and even without love, there’s no living without hope. So what we’re reminded to do is place our worries in the context of a God who loves and cares us, a God who is in control of our world, a God who is close to us, a God who says to us in the gospels ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.’
We pray for that peace, for that solace, for that reassurance for our world, for our country, for our parish community and for all our families, young and old, at this worrying time. God is good.
God helps those who help themselves, especially those who keep the new commandments – washing our hands, keeping our distance and, for the elderly, cocooning.