You and I are connected.  Even if you have never met me, we have a connection.  Hi, my name is Joe.

  

Unfortunately, the nature by which the corona virus spreads demonstrates this point beautifully. The virus is particularly dangerous because of it has a high rate of infection.  A person with influenza is likely to pass that virus on to 1.4 people.  Multiply that ten times out and the person of origin has indirectly infected 14 people.  An individual with the corona virus infects three people.  Multiply that ten times out and the person of origin indirectly infects 59,000 people.

This insidious virus makes one thing abundantly clear: we are all in this together.  The ripple effect of our words and actions are similar.  It is an unavoidable reality that our actions impact each other.  Too often we think freedom is being able to say or do whatever we want.  True freedom includes our responsibility to others in society and measuring the consequences of our words and actions to others.  This is not news or even particularly insightful, but it is a truth that had been seemingly lost in our culture.  Could the pandemic renew our sense of community and commitment to one another? 

The idea of “rugged individualism” or the notion that I can do this all on my own too often has become the dominating value. Rugged individualism has had a prescient place throughout the history of the United States.  The cowboy has long been an idealized, mythical character who is self-sufficient, tough-minded and make his dreams a reality through the sheer power of his own will. In recent years, rugged individualism has been replaced by a less mythical notion of isolationism.  I do not need anyone. The character Eleanor from the sitcom the Good Place described American society to an Australian bar tender this way:

Bartender:                          Look, there has to be rules, every place has rules.

Eleanor:                               Fine.  Here are my rules: rule number one: I get to do whatever I want, and you all just have to deal with it.  Rule two: no more Spider-man movies.  There are way too many Spider-man movies.  Too many dorky, little, twerpy Spider-men and rule three: everyone leave me alone.”

Bartender:                          So, you just take care of yourself,  you don’t owe anything to anyone else.  If people lived that way society would break down.

Eleanor:                               Yeah, in America, everyone does whatever they want. Society did break down, it’s terrible and it’s great! You only look out for number one, scream at whoever disagrees with you, there are no bees because they have all died and if you need surgery you just beg for money on the Internet.  It’s a perfect system! 

Except that it’s not. 

  • It’s not perfect when our politicians put thousands of voters at risk of getting sick because they cannot compromise for the common good.
  • It’s not perfect when the Governor has to close 40 state parks because people are polluting, vandalizing and not keeping a safe distance.
  • It’s not perfect when African Americans are getting sick at an alarmingly disproportionate rate because of the effects of poverty and the unavailability of healthcare.
  • It’s not perfect when people experiencing homelessness in Las Vegas are forced to sleep on an asphalt parking lot under the shade of billion-dollar casinos

After 9/11 Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York City, became known because he chanted the Shema (Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One) using the voicemails individuals left for their loved ones before the Twin Towers collapsed.  He also spoke about the oneness of God and humanity.

If you ask what 9/11 really did, it made me understand the truth of that. The truth of that, ‘Everything is one.’ Not that there’s some guy hanging out there who has it all together, who we call “One,” but that it is all one. We all know it deep down. We’ve all had those experiences. whether it’s looking at our child in a crib or whether it’s looking at our lover or looking at a mountaintop or looking at a sunset. Right? We’ve all had those experiences. And we recognize, ‘Whoa. I’m much more connected here.

That’s what those firemen had. They recognized; they didn’t have time to think about it, right? Because actually, if you think about it, you begin to create separations. They didn’t think about it. All they knew is we’re absolutely connected. We’re absolutely connected to the eighty-sixth floor.”

-Rabbi Irwin Kula

Our heroes in the medical profession recognize our oneness; Teachers completely changing their mode of teaching recognize the oneness; The premise of Family Promise recognizes that oneness; Family Promise volunteers recognize that oneness;  Congregations who support Family Promise recognize that oneness; Businesses, civic groups, foundations and individuals who donate to our Emergency Fund Appeal recognize that oneness; Sheltering in place is a recognition of that oneness.  The high rate of contagion of the corona virus rudely and cruelly reminds us of that oneness.

Tribalism and individualism stand in stark contrast to the idea of oneness and community.  They are  -isms that seek division, exclusion and separation.  Yet do not mistake oneness and community as a mindless unity, group think or action; it is an understanding that regardless of our diversity of faith, ethnicity, political party, opinions, gender, age, sexual orientation we are innately bound together because we are human.  There are no winners and losers here.  Existence ends the exact same way for everyone.  Humility, the truth about our existence, requires that every human being deserves dignity, respect and kindness because we are all in this together.  Remembering this basic truth would be the perfect system.

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