For some of us, the greatest challenge we experienced during the past few months was trying to keep the extra pounds from accumulating as we curbed our boredom by binge-watching Netflix series, doing our part to “stay at home” and couch potato our way through the pandemic. We told ourselves we were doing the right thing. We were saving lives by staying home.
Out of sight was out of mind and, comfortable in our curbside pickups and drive throughs, we didn’t see the homeless people who were no longer able to bum some coins for a cup of coffee and use the bathroom at their local McDonalds. One city set up handwashing stations on the streets for the homeless. Could we have gone the extra mile and put out porta-potties fulfilling their real perceived need? Or opened our church bathrooms for their use? Could we have spoken to our local Walmart and insisted they allow the homeless to use their facilities as the rest of us were allowed instead of barring them from entrance to the store?
People who were determined to live free of governmental assistance in jobs as dishwashers in restaurants or cleaners in office buildings suddenly lost their only source of income. We did eventually begin to lobby the government for assistance for the unemployed but gave little thought to those who were not able to apply for these programs as the libraries and drop-in centres where they would normally access the internet were also closed. I personally know several people who battle mental illness and/or addictions who depended on a minimum wage or volunteer job as a tether to their fragile existence who during this time were pushed to the brink of suicide. I know how meaningful it was for some minimum wage workers to be deemed “essential” and I wonder if we could have done more to advocate for other jobs to be ruled as “essential” or offering jobs in mask-making, or other low-skill occupations.
In Romans 12:15, we are commanded to mourn with those who mourn. But for those who lost loved ones and were now living alone, Christians did not go to them to offer a hug or share a cup of tea. One wonders in these days of loudly proclaimed rights and freedoms, why two consenting adults could not have engaged in this only potentially risky behaviour of a friendly hug. I think we can safely assume that no one was arrested for such a practice during the past few months as that kind of story would certainly have been broadcast over social media.
Then there were those most vulnerable of our society, those “in care” – the mentally ill, physically or developmentally challenged, hospitalized, imprisoned and aged – who were immediately isolated and cut off from all family and social supports. Could we have tried just a bit harder to visit them, or advocate for them to have social gatherings, perhaps treating them as one family unit? One of my sisters, who is the primary caregiver for our intellectually handicapped brother, noticed he was lying in bed in the dark for long periods of the day. I encouraged her to allow him to walk around town as he used to do, and stop in at the one coffee shop that allowed pedestrian customers. He soon became his cheerful, outgoing self again. He was not approached by the police and no fines were laid against my sister.
The children were perhaps the hardest hit, as many parents insisted their children stay inside their houses. For those from healthy families, the long-term effects may be minimal, but for those children in dysfunctional or minimally functional families, their experiences in the past few months have been marked with fear (perhaps even terror), confusion, and dread of the future. With alcoholic beverages and cannabis still readily available, families confined to close quarters within their houses lacked the normal observations of social workers, school teachers and neighbours. And there was no escape for those who wished to leave as shelters were all closed down.
Could we have done more to help families and especially our most precious little ones? There were a lot of virtual sermons and worship songs for the self-isolating adult Christians but how hard did Sunday school teachers work to connect with the children? Could they have called each child individually or had a Zoom conversation with them? Could they have put together packages of activities and mailed them to the children? And could we as Christians have organized something for the children in our community, something besides a drive-by? Here in the community where I live, there was a competition for snow sculpture. Each family was encouraged to go outside and work together as a family to build the best snowman or other creation. Several prizes were offered in various categories. The families sent in photos of their creations to the organizers. Another contest that was held was the best video of a family line dancing! Great stress relief for everyone, but especially for the children. Could we the church have organized something similar, not just for our kids, but perhaps for other more needy children and families?
And then there were the very sick among us, and those awaiting operations – for stents, amputations, transplants, and tumour removal – who were denied these potentially lifesaving measures. When you are very sick, it is hard to find the strength to fight for yourself. And again, there are those in our society who have less of a voice, and who suffer alone behind closed doors. One person with terminal cancer shared with me her frustration at the phone calls from her church; they felt like empty platitudes. I am reminded of the words in James 2:16: “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled.”
Christians during this time of lockdown seem to have been divided into three camps: those who insist we must follow the government unquestioningly, those who believe what is happening is wrong but feel powerless to change it, and those who feel they did their best to fulfil the second great commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves.
It is to this last group that I pose the question: could we have done more?
And what will the Righteous Judge of all the earth say to us on that day. Will He say, “Well done good and faithful servant, you were salt and light, and love and hope, to a hurting world,” or perhaps He will say, “Where were you when I needed you?”
Dorene Meyer is the author of 12 novels, two children’s books, a biography, a poem/prose and a reference book. Besides being a contributor to various anthologies, Dorene has edited and published 24 anthologies: 10 with adults, three with teens and 11 with children. As owner of Goldrock Press, Meyer has also published many books written by other authors including “Learning the Hard Way” by Joseph Bird, “Pipon” by Brenda Fontaine, “I’m an Addict – in Bits and Pieces” by Shamin Brown, “Tansi” by Flora Rideout, “The Loner” by Dana L. Coates, and “Nena” by Irene Young. Meyer has won several awards and received various grants for her writing and publishing. She resides in Norway House with her husband, John, who is a high school teacher. In the summer, they like to travel and visit their three kids and 11 grandchildren.