by Larry P. Johnson
Reprinted from “The San Antonio Express-News,” March 28, 2020.
Someone asks: “Can a blind person be afraid of the dark?” Well, of course. As a kid I was. It’s not the “dark” that scares us. It’s what might be hiding there under the bed or in the closet. A monster. A boogeyman. It’s the unknown.
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. What we don’t know, can’t see, can hurt us. Like a virus.
The coronavirus pandemic scares us because we don’t know where it is, who has it and whether it will jump out at us. Our fear of the coronavirus is depriving us of the chance to go to conferences and conventions. It is preventing students from attending classes, sports fans from sharing the joy of cheering for their favorite teams, and all of us from having the freedom to mingle, clasp hands or hug one another to express our friendship and affection.
Human beings are social animals. And even with text messaging, FaceTime and Instagram, we still need and want physical contact with one another. Keeping our distance is hard. Perhaps it’s because we’re told not to visit our friend in the hospital or Grandma and Grandpa in the nursing home that we suddenly want to do so.
Fear can be that rational warning that keeps us from harm. But it can also immobilize us, cause us to do nothing or send us off in a panic — searching the stores for masks and sanitizers and toilet paper.
The problem is that since we don’t know how large the danger is, we really don’t know how to prepare. Certainly we should have concern, take precautions, become informed. And that is the critical question: To become informed — how do we do that? To whom do we turn? We must demand of our leaders that they speak the truth so we know the scope and depth of the danger and what we can do to lessen it for ourselves and our loved ones.
But we can also use this opportunity to come together as neighbors, to offer support, share available resources (do you really need 20 rolls of toilet paper?) and believe that we will survive this crisis together.
There are heroic examples of health care workers putting themselves at risk visiting the homes of quarantined families to conduct testing for COVID-19, courageous doctors and nurses treating patients infected by the virus without having adequate personal protection clothing and masks for themselves, and countless kind folks who are delivering meals to elderly people who live alone.
These are indeed difficult times. We may worry that this crisis will go on and on, but as televangelist Robert Schuller wrote: “Every mountain has a top. Every problem has a lifespan. The question is, who is going to give in first, the (problem) or you?”
Should we be afraid? Physicist Marie Curie wrote, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
We can choose to fill the hours and days ahead with worry and fear, or we can choose to use our energy and skills to help our neighbor and our community. Pat Schroeder, first woman U.S. representative from Colorado, put it this way: “You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.”
We may not be able to gather in groups, but we definitely can help each other one on one. And that’s how I see it.