There is no “them” – Arkansas Times

It is 7:30 am I get up early to cover my three kilometers. The dogs accompanied me, as always. Constants in black and white in a world that seems gray. But it’s not that gray today. The colors of fall are everywhere. So vibrant and beautiful although they are fleeting. Reds, yellows and oranges have already started to give way to rust and brown.

In the countryside, you can almost pretend it’s a normal day. But this is not normal, because COVID-19 is always with us, even though thousands of our loved ones are not. Today in many places the news of the pandemic is not good. There are new pushes. I had my booster this week. I’m writing this before checking in with students on a myriad of digital platforms – whatever they can access – then put on my big girl mask and head to campus. Stone is about to don a mask and go to his classroom; Grace and Harper will wear theirs to universities north and south of here. So will my ninth and fourth graders, in Ozark public schools. Fortunately, now they’re both vaccinated like the rest of us. Yesterday we did church in a weird way that has become the norm, everyone crawled into the living room watching our pastor friend in West Virginia on a screen. It was both lonely and quite comfortable.

I love being with my kids and Stone. We are homebody. And my brother and sister-in-law and their children are next door. My parents are next to the other side, and since they are vaccinated and boosted, we can be with them now. For months, we did not enter their house or even touch them. The closest we got was across the porch or several yards apart in the courtyard. We spent Christmas last year outside in the freezing cold. I know we were lucky to live close enough to have this, but I missed eating together, hugging and running in and out. Thank goodness we will be inside this year. My kids missed playing Doogies and Rook with Granny and Papa and spending the night at their house. It is rooted in them that love resembles unity. But over the past couple of years, they’ve learned that it can also mean staying away. Not because it’s what we liked or wanted or appreciated for ourselves, but because it protected Granny and Dad from getting sick.

It’s a theme that keeps growing in my mind. Like these bulbs that I will soon be burying in the dark, they sprouted in the spring. I had watched people rack up, criticize, ignore, demand and blame leaders, especially politicians. Fear and anxiety have spread across the world at least as fast as the virus. I struggled daily to try to understand my role, to find a spiritual vaccine that I could offer. What could protect us from losing ourselves in the face of this crisis?

What finally opened the bulb was a post from my friend Melanie on Facebook. My daughter Zayna is missing. She came out and we thought she was just going for a walk but she didn’t come back and now it’s been hours. We can’t find her. Please pray.

Oh my God, I thought. How would I feel, what would I do if it was my child? As my mind moved to all of the worst possible conclusions, I felt a slight push. “This is what you are doing now.”

While the rest of us prayed, the Triple F men spread out to Melanie’s house, armed with boots and flashlights, ready to rummage through the night if necessary. What they found when they arrived was that hundreds of other people had the same idea. Community leaders, Melanie’s teachers and colleagues, church family and others who don’t even know Mélanie have come forward to search for and save her baby girl. Because in this crisis we remembered a simple truth that can immunize us against a sick world: the children of others do not exist. At that time, the little girl was not just Mélanie’s daughter. She was all ours, our Zayna. And we couldn’t rest until she was safe at home. (Which happened just after dark, thank God.)

What I took away from this experience, other than the fact that the people in my hometown are awesome as usual, is the same kind of lesson I tried to teach my kids. Love means that you take care of others. It seems that the human impulse is the opposite – watch out for ourselves. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Clever. It is to be careful. It’s following the rules. But I think the vaccine that will keep us from losing more than we already have to this virus is to change the way we think about just protecting ourselves and others. Love always protects.

It is a counter-culture response, and it is our choice to make. We cannot choose that COVID-19 does not exist. But we can choose how we respond to them. We can choose to be strong together. What does protecting others look like, other than finding a lost child? Wear a mask? Remember that sarcastic meme that we are tempted to post on Facebook? How could we implement this spiritual vaccine locally and nationally? From the supply chain to our most vulnerable population to all of our children, it takes creativity and sacrifice. But if there is something that a crisis is good for, it reminds us of the truth our best have always known to us. There are no them. It’s just us.

Gwen Faulkenberry lives, parents, writes and teaches in rural Arkansas. You can read more about his work here.

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