Today I got to grocery shop for my father-in-law, whose birthday is tomorrow. He’ll turn 80. I considered that a great privilege, getting to serve him in that small way so that he does not have to risk contracting COVID-19. Bob is very active–he wanted us all to run Bloomsday together to celebrate his 80th–but is also a cancer survivor and has been through some nasty health scares.
Today, we “met” baby Brennan, our three-day-old nephew, through the big front window of my sister- and brother-in-law’s house. His mother, Kim’s sister Celeste, did not have an easy pregnancy with him, so we were thrilled at the privilege of getting to see his tiny self. He, of course flailed wildly and didn’t care, but his big brother Ein, at 4, was happy to see us. Because our eldest, Rowan, lives with Ben and Celeste (and has since before we moved back from Nicaragua), we are now separated from him as well as his family. To protect this infant, none of us in our household are coming into direct contact with any of them.
Today, Kim was talking with one of our Nicaraguan friends. Nicaragua has two confirmed cases so far and one death from COVID-19. But if you haven’t spent time in the developing world, and specifically if you haven’t been exposed to health care resources available to the majority of the people who live there, you might not relate to the dread I feel for them.
Our friend overheard two gringos telling each other, “Well, at least Nicaraguans are accustomed to suffering.”
She told Kim, “That seemed very disrespectful and lacking in empathy.”
“Malcriados,” Kim said.
I’m trying very hard not to make this post too heavy, so I will just touch on this briefly.
I suspect those of us who live comfortable lives believe, deep down, that we deserve what we have. When I see our reactions to the coronavirus, how affronted we are that we might lose any part of our accustomed comfort, I’m only more convinced this is true of us. Of course, this is contrary to Jesus’ Gospel. The worst problem with this belief is the necessary corollary that others who live with far more suffering and hardship than we do must also somehow not deserve what we have. We don’t say these things aloud. They sound horrible when we do.
I understand my saying that may ruffle some feathers. I’m fine with being wrong about this. But my experience in a developing nation provided too many examples and I think we don’t want to see this about ourselves. I get that.
Today, here, we are incredibly privileged. Freaking lucky. Say it however you want. Yes, we are blessed, but we have to think all the way through that, from both perspectives. I have no idea how the majority of Nicaraguans will be able to carry out social distancing. If you ever saw photos of the barrio where we lived, you would understand. So many of our neighbors don’t have running water and running hot water is almost unheard of (we never had that, either). Most don’t have margin for their economy to stop for a week. I don’t mean it will cut into their savings. Their hospitals have nothing remotely like the necessary equipment–or even sterilization–to treat a wave of COVID-19 patients. I haven’t been able to write this out until now. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about.
I’m not saying it’s easy here. I am saying we must be grateful for what we have. The United States now has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world. There are many reasons why. I keep reading about how horribly overwhelmed our nurses and doctors and paramedics and EMTs are. I can’t even wrap my head around it.
But we’ve seen a hospital in Managua where they don’t change sheets between patients, where there aren’t enough beds, where patients gasping for air sit in plastic chairs in the hall. If you’ve seen these, you know the nightmare I’m picturing right now.
Saying “Nicaraguans are used to suffering so it isn’t so bad that they have to suffer” means “United States people aren’t used to suffering so we should never have to because that would be too hard on us.” It really is saying it would be worse if we had to go through it.
Lord Jesus, have mercy on us. Have mercy and change our hearts.
I’m asking you to pray for Nicaragua. I know most of you have never been and don’t feel much connection there, but I’m asking you, please, if you pray, pray for them. [Late edit: A friend just told me she prays for Nicaragua every time she washes her hands. Brilliant! I’d been praying the Lord’s prayer, but I think this is a better idea for me.]
We can become smaller people in response to this pandemic and demand that what we consider our rights be returned to us. We can grow bigger, expand our hearts (yes, like the Grinch) and think of others, think that maybe they don’t deserve to suffer horribly from this…maybe they don’t deserve to suffer as they do on a daily basis…and maybe we don’t deserve all that we have. Maybe what we have and what others don’t have isn’t a question of “deserving” at all.
I know a lot of us are scared and I don’t think that’s unfounded. It’s harder to think of others when we’re scared. But doing so is exactly how we grow into bigger people, more like Jesus, with greater capacity to love and feel compassion. If we suffer from this crisis, we can allow that to break down the distance between us and those who are more accustomed to suffering.
Jesus, help us look beyond ourselves. Have mercy on our brothers and sisters who don’t have what we have. Forgive us for concluding that we are entitled to more. Give us courage to walk through today with patience, gratitude, and grace.
Jesus, please have mercy on Nicaragua.
Where are you praying for, in addition to here tonight?