By: Candace McKibben
The visiting professor was talking to the clinical pastoral education students at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital about assumptions and premises of systems theory. One of the six he named was that “all members in a system are interdependent.” He commented that if we didn’t know that already, just look at the coronavirus. There were knowing nods all around the table.
St. Patrick’s Day, beyond its salute to the patron saint of Ireland and an array of joyful activities, is a day when we rally around a particular group of people, claiming a common bond, acknowledging our interdependency. It is known as the day when everyone is Irish. Last year more than 400 venues in more than 50 countries turned green. People wear T Shirts saying, “Kiss me, I’m Irish,” proposing that such a kiss is the next best thing to kissing the Blarney stone for eloquence of speech or good luck. Rivers are dyed green. Parades and festivals feature Irish food, dance and music.
But not this year, as a number of St. Patrick’s Day events across the globe have been cancelled in an abundance of caution regarding COVID-19. In Ireland, where the events are scheduled from March 13-17, 2020, Dublin and Cork cancelled events in congruence with the World Health Organization guidelines. Northern Ireland has done the same, as has Boston and San Francisco, where some of the largest US celebrations occur. And it makes me think, what – beyond the interdependency we have on each other and the importance of responsibly following World Health Organization guidelines – does this coronavirus have to teach us?
One lesson involves gratitude for the many persons in the healthcare field who support our health day in and day out. From the ophthalmologist in China, Dr. Li Wenliang, who first warned about the unusual virus and later died from it, to the many healthcare workers in our own community who faithfully come to work daily to care for those who need them, it is remarkable to contemplate their devotion and stamina. Dr. Wenliang is quoted in the New York Times as saying from his hospital bed, “After I recover I want to go back to the front line. I don’t want to be a deserter.” His spirit is reflective of many worldwide who are working diligently to control the spread and treat those who are suffering from the virus. We do well to thank the many who are tending to the health of us all.
Another lesson involves the crucial importance of reliable information. We have been living in a time when sorting truth from fiction has become challenging. But now more than ever we are all reliant upon accurate information to know how best to protect ourselves and others from contracting the virus and spreading it. A member of my church shared with me an email from Dr. James Robb, MD FCAP, a past professor of pathology at the University of California San Diego, who was one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses in the 1970s. Still current with the research, he suggests the usual 20 second handwashing, use of hand sanitizer, and avoiding handshakes. Additionally, he urges using your knuckle to turn on light switches or press elevator buttons, using disposable tissue – not your elbow – to catch coughs or sneezes, disposing of the tissue immediately, opening doors with closed fist or hip if possible, and using zinc lozenges, known to block coronavirus from multiplying in the throat and nasopharynx, as soon as a cold symptom appears. Relying on trustworthy information enables us to feel more competent to act wisely and calm fears and anxiety.
Perhaps the most important lesson is realizing our common humanity. We are all vulnerable. No one is immune. The virus does not discriminate between economic status, countries, or age, though the very young and very old may be more susceptible. And we all have a role to play in stemming the tide of infection, supporting those who are on the front lines, and encouraging each other during an uncertain time. People of faith and goodwill can be vigilant to pray and send our loving concern to all the world over. This St. Patrick’s Day we are not only all Irish – we are all one in concern for each other and for a remedy to COVID-19.