Valuing Connections, Finding Joy —by Jinny Batterson
The corona virus pandemic has impacted every nation on earth, few more severely than the United States of America, which has rarely seemed less united. Many of us, especially if we are older, have mostly hunkered down in physical isolation at home (assuming we have a home), venturing out rarely, masked and sanitized, for shopping or medical appointments. It’s easy to feel disconnected.
An American friend who’s widely traveled and now makes her home in France sent me a link to a lengthy article by Colombian-Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis. His early August 2020 commentary is titled “The Unraveling of America,” and includes this quotation:
“In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.” (You can read the entire article at https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/political-commentary/covid-19-end-of-american-era-wade-davis-1038206/?fbclid=IwAR1STn3hp2VywUqvGxjPpSUqMItAGBnF7oEPorxsZ1OeUZERQbrTpSHEe78.)
Some of us Americans are still involved in blaming each other for the mess we currently find ourselves in. Some are foolishly conflating “freedom” with the license to spread harm via a tiny airborne pathogen none of us can see. Some, though, are also remembering glimmers of our underlying interconnectedness, even while physical distancing remains an important tool for reducing the spread of illness, misery, and death.
Earlier today, I attended this week’s “Friday Action Parking Lot” event at our mostly distanced congregation, a sort of modified “tailgate party.” Since March, Sunday services and most weekday meetings have gone virtual, but we’ve adapted some of our sharing practices to fit our changed circumstances. Before the pandemic, we participated, along with other religious groups and non-profits, in various feeding and affordable housing programs. Hosting an in-person group luncheon is no longer practical, but food still needs to be provided. Lengthy in-person visits to affordable housing complexes are not advisable, either, but families whose children may soon continue “virtual” schooling in apartments lacking air conditioning could really use donated portable fans. Each week a virtual call goes out via email for items especially needed—this week, in addition to fans, there was a premium on face masks and reusable grocery bags.
If few in our congregation are among the wealthiest, few are destitute, either. It’s important to maintain connections with others who may be economically challenged at the moment, for a whole host of reasons. One of the strongest is that we are all inevitably interconnected, so generosity helps maintain health and brings joy.
Recently I picked up some books ordered online from my favorite local bookshop, which now has “book take-out.” As I’d ordered a different book by a favorite author, another book he’d co-authored came up as a possible selection: The Book of Joy. The title was especially appealing. Once I got my treasures home, I found the book jacket cover of two famous octogenarians broadly smiling at each other worth the price of the book all by itself. Created from notes and insights garnered during an in-person 2015 meeting between Desmond Tutu, retired Archbishop of South Africa and convener of that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Tensin Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Book of Joy chronicles some of these two Nobel Peace Laureates struggles along the way to developing abiding senses of joy. It examines “eight pillars of joy:” perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and, finally, generosity.
Tutu speaks from his religious tradition about the importance of generosity: “I’ve sometimes joked and said God doesn’t know very much math, because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way … you give and it then seems in fact you are making space for more to be given to you.”
“And there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. …And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”