The Moral Meaning of the Plague

By DR. ANN HOLLINGSWORTH,

A friend recently sent me this from an article in the NY Times.  It seems to be good food for thought at this time.

The Moral Meaning of the Plague by David Brooks,

Opinion Columnist.

The virus is a test. We have the freedom to respond.  It can all seem so meaningless. Some random biological mutation sweeps across the globe, murdering thousands, lacerating families and pulverizing dreams.  The only thing that matters is survival. Without the inspiration of a higher meaning, selfishness takes over.  This mind-set is the temptation of the hour — but of course it’s wrong. We’ll look back on this as one of the most meaningful periods of our lives.

Viktor Frankl, writing from the madness of the Holocaust, reminded us that we don’t get to choose our difficulties, but we do have the freedom to select our responses. Meaning, comes from three things: the work we offer in times of crisis, the love we give and our ability to display courage in the face of suffering. The menace may be subhuman or superhuman, but we all have the option of asserting our own dignity, even to the end.

This particular plague hits us at exactly the spots where we are weakest and exposes exactly those ills we had lazily come to tolerate. We’re already a divided nation, and the plague makes us distance from one another. We define ourselves too much by our careers, and the plague threatens to sweep them away. We’re a morally inarticulate culture, and now the fundamental moral questions apply.

In this way the plague demands that we address our problems in ways we weren’t forced to before. The plague brings forth our creativity. It’s during economic and social depressions that the great organizations of the future are spawned.  Already, there’s a new energy coming into the world - people finding ways to sing and dance together across distance.

There’s a new introspection coming into the world, as well. Everybody I talk to these days seems eager to have deeper conversations and ask more fundamental questions:

Are you ready to die? If your lungs filled with fluid a week from Tuesday would you be content with the life you’ve lived?

What would you do if a loved one died? Do you know where your most trusted spiritual and relational resources lie?

What role do you play in this crisis? What is the specific way you are situated to serve?

Gradually you discover that you have the resources to cope as you fight the fear with conversation and direct action. A stronger self emerges out of the death throes of the anxiety.