Currently, Oman, like many other countries, is experiencing measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Our schools, mosques, churches, and parks are closed. Entry into the country is very limited, and those coming in will be quarantined. People are encouraged to not go out and interact in anything more than small groups. Driving around Muscat, it feels like a ghost town as there are very few cars on the roads.
As of writing this, everyone on Al Amana Centre and their families appear to be healthy. Our kids are doing school work from home, and we are taking time to do things that have been on our “to do list” that have been neglected and to think about how we will re-engage in our programs once the restrictions are lifted and it is safe to move about the world again.
The world is being changed and will continue being changed by this pandemic. Lives will be lost, fear will likely linger long after the immediate threat has passed, and governments will have to evaluate and re-evaluate how they handle crises like this in the future.
Even as we lament the losses that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, we must also look at what we might learn from this period of time. Here are 5 things I think we are experiencing, can learn from, or be hopeful about:
1. The world is taking a collective breath.
This pandemic is causing most of us to slow down and take a collective breath. You can’t do much running around when we are staying in our homes. We are spending time with family and we are recognizing what is important, and what is truly needed for us to live. (Hint: it is not toilet paper…) There is also evidence of pollution decreasing as manufacturing and travel have stopped in parts of the world. In Oman, as I walk my dog, more people than ever are out walking, riding bikes, etc. to escape the confines of home in responsible ways.
2. We are having to work on interpersonal conflict and can’t distance ourselves from our family, close friends, co-workers.
I have two sons and a wife who will be stuck with me in our house for at least a month, if not longer. We can’t interact with too many other people. We are used to going to school, to work, and to worship. Now we will see more of each other than we have than in any other time in our family history. If we do go to work, it will be with a small group of people. If we want social connection, it will be limited to close friends and neighbors. There will be fights, conflict, anger, frustration, harsh words, yelling, and tears. We can’t run to work, to school, or to the mall to “get away.” We’ll have to work out our issues and learn to have patience and grace with each other if we are to survive this period of isolation and distance. Hopefully we will use what we learn long after the period of social distancing is over.
3. We will have to care for each other.
This pandemic is wreaking havoc on our economies, and there are people who can’t afford to not work. Many, if not most, people can’t survive financially if they don’t work and get paid every week. They also can’t leave children home alone. Many people rely on schools to feed their families. Our healthcare systems will be over loaded. The act of social distancing is a way of caring for the most vulnerable in our societies. Governments can’t bear this burden alone. We will have to find new and creative ways to care for each other.
4. We will discover our weaknesses and learn that some things need to change in ourselves and in our society.
Our healthcare and social safety nets are proving inadequate to respond to the crisis. We need to be better prepared. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are being stretched globally beyond the breaking point. Children are losing weeks of education. Hoarding of resources is leaving many with food that will spoil and others with nothing. This will change, the question is how? More than these things, weakness will be made known to us. How will we grow stronger?
5. This will hopefully unite us around a shared global experience.
My hope is that since this is a global phenomenon, and that no one is left untouched by it, we will come together in a new way, as a human race, through our shared experience. COVID-19 doesn’t make distinction between Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Sikh, etc… In Oman, Churches and Mosques alike are closed, for example. We are jointly sharing the loss of worship and ritual. COVID-19 doesn’t make distinction between genders, sexes, cultures, ethnicities, etc….All are affected. Our world will change, as a whole, and hopefully we will recognize that we are in this thing called “life” with everyone else around the globe.
These five things also parallel the process of reconciliation. In order for reconciliation to happen, we must first stop what we are doing, take a breath, stop the violence, stop the injustice, stop the hate, enmity and any other action that keeps us from our neighbor. We must then work on how we are going to engage each other in this new reality after the active enmity has stopped. We continue the process of reconciliation by finding new ways of acting and interacting. We discover new ways of resolving interpersonal and intergroup conflict. Through this, we begin new ways of caring for each other in our society and new ways of being a community, post-conflict. Finally, we unite around these new ways of solving conflict, new structures of communal care and justice, and create a new shared experience that can carry our communities into the future.
COVID-19 is and will be a global tragedy. But through this tragedy, we can learn pathways toward reconciliation….if we take the chance and opportunity to use this time to lead us into new ways of living with our neighbors, and maybe even our enemies.
Written by Rev. Justin Meyers, Associate Director of Al Amana Centre