The Commonplace #2

There is something about this time of pandemic and precaution that compels many of us to bid each other wellness and good health and to ask in genuine concerned tones as to how people are. “How are you?” Three small but powerful words of empathy and care. We here in Roanoke, in Virginia’s Star City, a small metro nestled in a blue-bowl valley amidst the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills – we, for now, are safe and well, thank you. And we send our wishes for peace and wellness for you and yours out into time and space as well.

  • We live in interesting times. In a 1966 speech in Cape Town, Robert Kennedy said,

    “Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”
  • Syndicated columnist Esther Cepeda asks whether the Coronavirus might also infect us with a greater sense of empathy. Cepeda writes, “My desperate hope is that coronavirus-related discomfort, inconvenience and suffering creates empathy for our fellow human beings.” She goes on to connect this heightened empathy due to trauma with the possibility for more of us to better identify and care about the families being ripped apart at the border due to our flawed and cruel immigration policies. In 2019, the US apprehended over 850,000 migrants, double the number from the year before. More often, our officials have separated families and children in an intentional effort to discourage and deter immigration, resulting in life-altering trauma and a “human rights horror”.
  • Anecdotally, Cepeda may be on to something. In my own neighborhood, people are reaching out and pitching in. Friends buy gift cards from local merchants, because they have heard cash flow will be tight. Next Door is a neighborhood-focused social media platform – one of the few social media platforms I use. You receive messages and can share messages with people in or near your own block and zipcode. These types of comments have been typical of late:

    “If anyone in Roanoke is feeling anxious about buying groceries or anything because they would be at higher risk if they caught COVID-19, I’d be happy to help out by doing your grocery shopping or whatever you need. Just reach out.”
  • And who knows if this is end or beginning. Social, political, and economic life can shift and alter due to crisis. History teaches us that change is in the nature of things. Scholars working at the intersections of medicine and archaeology posit that epidemic disease may have triggered the fall of the Roman Empire. See this piece by Caroline Wazer in The Atlantic.

    Wazer describes two papers in the Journal of Roman Archaeology that suggest that ancient epidemics such as the Justinianic Plague spread far and wide beyond core cities like Rome, reaching far-flung towns and villages across Europe and beyond. Both papers suggest that “historians and archaeologists have likely severely underestimated of the scale and scope of ancient epidemics”.
  • Heavy. To close on a less weighty note, apparently one result of us all having a bit more time is an increase in the number of adorable videos from pet owners. As reported in our local paper, The Roanoke Times, the local SPCA has joined in, “We want to encourage people to post goofy pictures of their pets and maybe for a brief moment we can smile, laugh, or just relax our minds for a little bit.” And, the chair of Carilion Clinic’s psychiatry department, Dr. Bob Trestman said these social media connections and shared humor, “…can be very beneficial to engage people, to help ground people.”