What does it mean to love our neighbors in a time of coronavirus? Like many Americans, I’ve paid increasing attention these past few days to reports about the spread of the coronavirus. Our son William, who is 11 years old and home on spring break, has been tracking reports with me. We’ve puzzled over a series of infographics that convinced me of the efficacy of social distancing when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus. We listened together to two episodes of The Daily, where we learned about why the United States’ efforts have not yet been particularly effective.
Love, Not Fear
But we’ve also wondered about how this pandemic should affect our own decisions. We want our lives to be marked by love, not fear. So we don’t want to take self-protective measures motivated by fear. We aren’t at high risk for serious suffering as a result of the virus. And even if we were, living in fear only breeds self-centeredness, anxiety, and a blindness to the needs of others.
But we do want to live out of love. We have plans for the days ahead, including, in William’s case, a service trip through church to a community in Mexico. Penny, Marilee, and I have tickets to see Wicked on Broadway next week. We took a walk this morning, and William puzzled through his options. He said something like, “On the one hand, if I go to Mexico, I love God, myself and my far-away neighbors. I want to go, and if I go I get to help other people. On the other hand, it’s possible I would bring the virus with me to those people and hurt them, or that I would bring it back with me and hurt elderly people in our church. So the most loving thing might also be to stay here and not get to go.”
Loving our Neighbors and the Coronavirus
What does it mean to love our neighbors? How do we not just serve ourselves and our own desires but participate in the flourishing of our local communities? Vulnerable people will suffer as a result of social distancing. Vulnerable people will also suffer without it.
Under some circumstances, love could mean buying tickets to performances and traveling to distant lands and building houses and sharing meals. Taking measures like closing schools can help to stem the spread of germs. It also can mean that whole groups of kids go without lunch for weeks on end. It also can mean that parents are out of work.
Under other circumstances, love can mean “social distancing,” staying at home, choosing not to participate. Love could mean not panicking. Love could mean not hoarding resources but looking for ways to share and give.
We didn’t come to a conclusion. But we did remind ourselves of a commitment to live in love and not in fear.
Update: William’s trip was postponed and Broadway is closed so we will be loving our neighbors by staying put!