Our world has been turned upside down, but this time has led many of us to realize important, life-changing truths.
This disruption reminds us that something very small and invisible can make us vulnerable, and it forces us to think about where we stand and how we’re facing this challenge. Looking forward in the light of this experience and the lessons it can teach us, should we persevere in familiar habits and patterns of life, or commit ourselves to a change of course?
Here are some symbols that reflect the experiences of this period, which can point to lessons for our future.
1Staying at home: Returning to the intimacy of family life.
By staying at home, we’ve regained the courage to look inward, to share more with our loved ones and to live the sacrifice of being part of a greater good as a family. It’s helped us to understand that there’s a whole universe to be discovered in the intimacy of our homes and within ourselves, a universe that we could easily ignore before because of our busy daily routines.
2Face masks: Learning to keep silent.
Spending more time at home could motivate us to talk more, but face masks help remind us to keep our mouths closed. Instead of rushing to talk, interrupting or ignoring others while pretending to listen, we’re being invited to practice a little silence.
Being silent gives us the opportunity to discover and understand other people’s point of view. Listening more closely takes us away from our own egos to let in the hearts and minds of others.
3Places transformed into hospitals: Making room for everyone.
This period has been a time of change in favor of common objectives. Buildings such as schools and hotels have been transformed into hospitals, providing space to help others. We learned that we need to cultivate mutual help and practice solidarity in order to take care of each other and assume more responsibility.
It’s helped us, in a way, to see that loneliness is inhuman and destructive, and that we are more than a set of random individuals; we are a society, a human family. Our personal good is inseparable from the common good; we cannot really progress if each one of us seeks solutions totally independently and without regard for the whole community.
4Deserted streets and famous places: Leaving aside the superficial.
The virus has brought down many of our plans, programs and scheduled trips. We’ve had to abandon some pleasures we were used to: comforts, places and spaces with which we filled our lives, but which in the end offered us nothing that would last.
Stay-at-home orders have been an occasion to abandon the bad habit of making plans as ends in themselves, and to free ourselves from “doing for the sake of doing” without finding the true meaning of things. It’s taken us away from distractions, and has helped us to put the focus back on what really matters. This brings us closer to understanding the true purpose and value of things.
5Fewer cars on the road: A moment of rest on the way.
The period of staying home seems to have taught us that when we stop for a moment on the journey of life, it can serve as an opportunity to reflect and renew our plans for the future. There are benefits in breaks!
Wisdom and happiness don’t depend on the amount of stamps we have in our passport. There’s no point in going from city to city, taking a thousand photos and bringing back some magnets for the fridge, if we return with the same emptiness with which we left. Now that we cannot travel as freely, we can reflect on where we really want to go and what we want to gain from the experience.
6Washing our hands: Maintaining habits of personal hygiene.
We have a greater awareness than before of the importance of frequently performing small daily acts such as washing our hands in order to avoid illness. These habits have protected us not only from COVID-19, but also from many other illnesses. Until there is a vaccine, this is one of the few effective ways we can really fight the disease today.
7Empty shelves: Recovering the essentials.
Supply chains have been interrupted, some factories and packaging plants are closed, and panic buying created shortages at the beginning of the pandemic, so many of us have had to go without some items. This has shown us that we don’t need to have much, just the essentials.
We’ve become more aware that our lives become healthier and more joyful in the simplicity of renouncing the frenetic search for material well-being, excessive consumption and a hedonistic lifestyle. We’ve been forced, sometimes, to prioritize, and learn to give, share or even leave aside things that we used to think were indispensable.
8Applause: Recognizing the defense of life.
A common phenomenon has been the recognition of people who work to defend life. Health care workers—doctors, nurses and volunteers—have been applauded or thanked in many parts of the world for fighting against COVID-19. We’ve seen, more than ever, the heroic character of countless people who are putting their lives in danger to help save the lives of others in hospitals. And there are the armies of essential workers — from grocery clerks to cleaners, from farmers and delivery people — who also undertake risk, often involuntarily, to make sure that others can stay safe at home. It should restore our faith in humanity, and remind us of the value of every human life.
9Special protection for those at risk: Courage and respect for our seniors.
This pandemic has affected some parts of the population more than others; the elderly, the chronically ill and disabled, and those in prisons and other institutions have been those most severely affected. We’ve learned the importance of valuing and respecting them, accompanying them however we can—even if it be from behind a protective barrier or through modern means of communication—so that they don’t feel alone or abandoned.
How many practices such as euthanasia or discrimination or simple forgetfulness are presented to us as reasonable options, often disguised as “normal!” In reality, the elderly and other vulnerable people also play a decisive role in contributing to society. They deserve our care and protection.
10Rainbow drawings in windows: Hope for the future.
People in different countries and regions have come up with different ways of cheering each other up and encouraging each other, from concerts on balconies to messages in windows. One particularly meaningful trend was common in Italy and elsewhere: putting drawings and paintings of rainbows in windows, often with the message, “Everything will be OK.”
Indeed, the rainbow is a biblical symbol of hope, given to Noah after the flood. It’s a reminder for us today that we cannot control everything—in fact, we never know what tomorrow will bring—but God is with us and there’s always hope.
As humanity struggles with this virus, and different regions take steps forward (and sometimes backwards again) in an attempt to establish a “new normal,” we need to learn the lessons this experience offers us so that after the pandemic we will live with a clearer idea of what’s truly important. The “new normal” needs to be better, not just different. The way we live should reveal a greater trust and hope in God, and greater love and appreciation for our neighbor.
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