Horses have taught me a lot over the years. Most of the lessons came when things weren’t going well. The training rides where everything went wrong, sometimes leaving me in tears of frustration, were the ones that led to breakthroughs in my understanding. Those rides forced me to stop focusing on what I wanted to do, and instead, observe what was happening in the moment. Reflecting on what the horse was telling me caused me to confront my own limits and taught me the importance of being in relationship with my horse.
Over time, I began to recognize emotional discomfort during a ride as a sign that I had something to learn. It told me to take a deep breath, reflect on the situation, and consult with others. By doing so, I slowly became more adept with horses. More importantly, I deepened my understanding of relationships and the ways my actions affect others. My horse helped me become a better person.
Today, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m feeling a lot of emotional discomfort. I recognize that even saying this means I’ve been fortunate to this point in time. Many others are suffering physically and materially due to the impact of coronavirus on their health and income. Many more will suffer in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
All of this pain begs the same question that I learned to ask when a training ride with my horse went awry, “what do I need to learn from this experience?” I hear people express hope for the day when we return to the way things were before the pandemic. I don’t share that hope. The pandemic has been a stress test for our systems, and it has laid bare the inequities and injustices of our way of life. My hope is for something new, something better than the way things were before the pandemic.
In the midst of this pandemic “ride,” meaningful reflection is difficult. However, now is the time to observe what is happening, to look and not avert our eyes. What we see may be painful, because it doesn’t match the stories that we’ve told ourselves about who we are as a person, a people, or a country. It’s time to confront our limits and recognize the ways our actions affect others. For those of us who are Christian, it may be the start of a new Lenten journey, one that extends beyond the church calendar. The period of pandemic becomes a Lent that asks, “what do we need to let go of, to turn away from, so that we can have a new life that includes everyone and all of creation when the pandemic is over?”
Everything is different during this pandemic, and so is this blog post for April 1st. Instead of my usual researched reflection on a topic, I offer you a few examples of my current observations of the inequities and injustices being revealed by the pandemic. My call to ministry is grounded in eco-justice, so the examples have an environmental connection.
Observation 1: The scarcity of basic medical supplies (gloves, gowns, and N95 masks) reveals a reliance on a few countries to manufacture critical goods needed by everyone. Our current system drives manufacturing to countries where the cost of production is often subsidized by the abuse of people and the environment, so others benefit from lower consumer prices and/or greater corporate profits. An example of this is what’s happening in Malaysia, where about two thirds of the world’s glove supply is manufactured.
Observation 2: Air travel has nearly ceased, with devastating impact on those who work in that economic sector. Reducing air travel is often named as a needed action to slow climate change. For those who travel by air, giving it up has been viewed as a “daunting” task, as recently stated in a February 2020 BBC article about climate change. The pandemic reveals that air travel can be halted quickly, and the daunting sacrifice is not borne by those who give up air travel. Instead, it’s borne by those who need a different way to make a living, if we permanently decrease air travel to combat climate change.
Observation 3: There’s been a significant improvement in air quality, as a result of our response to the pandemic. In the U.S., the improvement is almost entirely due to less traffic. Schools have moved online, and to the extent possible, so has employment. We’re developing virtual meeting skills and remote work / school capabilities that are needed for long-term improvement of air quality and to fight heat island effects in urban areas. However, children struggling to attend school from home reveal that the Information Age, and all of its economic benefits, has bypassed many homes.
The above are just a few examples of inequities and injustices I’ve seen revealed by the pandemic. I encourage you to look and see others that are being presented to us. My hope is we get to the point where we can reflect on these observations, consult each other about them, and build relationships. Ultimately, I hope we grow as people and create a new normal that is better than what we had before the pandemic.
Now, for the difficult days ahead, I wish you the peace that surpasses all understanding. May it comfort and guide you.