On Rejoining the Human Community

Now that vaccinations are possible and becoming prevalent we are moving towards normalization which may take up to a year to achieve. But a day will come when we will see the faces of others again. Hugs, kisses and warm embraces, passionate connections will once again be part of life. In the meantime, I have had to reconsider the meaning of illness and loss. I am reminded that longtime friend and scholar, mystic and scientist, Dr. Larry Dossey, reflected on the nature of illness and healing which pushes us even further when suggesting that when confronted with illness we are really being confronted to define the core issues in our lives. In other words, it is not as simple as merely facing cancer as disease or aging or heart failure as physical phenomenon.

“Countless numbers of people who pray for diseases to go away would be utterly baffled and stunned should this actually happen. As Susan Ertz put it, ‘Millions long for immortality who not know what to do with themselves on a a rainy Sunday afternoon.’ What on earth happened? Where did the cure come from? Why did it occur? What is the purpose of my healing? What am I to do with my life now that the disease has gone?

“Even if prayer or attempts at self-transformation fail in the course of illness, there is still a sense in which a cure can always occur. By ‘cure’ I do not mean the physical disappearance of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, or stroke, but something more marvelous—the realization that physical illness, no matter how painful or grotesque, is at some level of secondary importance in the total scheme of our existence. This is the awareness that one’s authentic, higher self is completely impervious to the ravages of any physical ailment whatever. The disease may regress or totally disappear when this awareness dawns, for reasons we may not understand. When this happens it comes as a gift, a blessing, grace— but again, this is of secondary importance. The real cure is the realization that at the most essential level, we are all ‘untouchables’—utterly beyond the ravages of disease and death.”

- from Healing Words—the Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine, Harper, San Francisco, 1993, pp.35-36

Following Dossey’s thinking, I wondered about what we have seen happening in America with regard to the body of our polis? What has this pandemic revealed to us about ourselves? On the dark side, our fierce competitiveness when comes to receiving vaccinations, and within our fearfulness we need remember what an at risk life means. We have also had to face our demons around racism and ageism. We have seen politicization of mask wearing, access to treatment, public health strategies as well as statistics, real and imagined. On the side of light, we have seen heroic acts performed by “essential workers” just doing their jobs as they do each day, as well as amazing exemplars offering to lighten the load like musicians and actors, singers and artists. We have had rare moments of unity and oneness as a people, particularly as we learn to give voice and to our grieving for our lost and departed.

We have begun to realize that we are not alone with each other, even when we cannot touch one another or even see each other’s faces in person. In that mystical possibility of wholeness and oneness we are also beginning to see breakthroughs of hope as we have been compelled to live our lives differently even when this is over. We struggle with what it means to live in community with differing opinions and values. So like all moments of plague across human history, there are opportunities for good and evil which have emerged. Together, we will move toward answers and solidarity only when we realize and embrace the tragic losses and the remarkable possibilities. And maybe, we will call these realizations, grace—in and of themselves.

As we prepare for the coming of spring and perhaps the lightening of the burdens we bear, we can take a few moments to reflect over the past year when this season of plague descended on us. We can give thanks for the brave discoveries of scientists and researchers; we can acknowledge the painful losses of loved ones, colleagues and friends; we can lead others to vaccine sites; we can reach out into the communities around us and offer whatever assistance as may be required, and we can rest a bit and pray. That’s should occupy us in meaningful interactions and opportunities and help us frame this season of social distancing to rejoining the human community.

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