It has been quite troubling during the past two weeks as we have continuously watched news updates on the deadly effects of the coronavirus outbreak here in the U.S. and worldwide. Seeing deaths increase and anxiety mount for those most vulnerable to COVID-19, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, is taking a distressing toll on many. One sobering revelation this pandemic is really showing us is that we need to be genuinely concerned for one another's welfare. I have been reflecting deeply on the fact that I am my brother's and sister's keeper.
The question "Am I my brother's keeper?" that was insolently posed to God by Cain has always been viewed as an inquiry ending in a forewarning. Most of you know this story, told in the fourth chapter of Genesis, very well. Cain murdered his brother, Abel, in jealous rage because God found Abel's offering, "the firstlings of his flock," to be honorable. Cain's offering, basically what he had harvested from the ground, was not given with a sincere and grateful heart. The iniquity in his heart was exposed in his attitude of indifference toward God and his cold-blooded slaying of Abel. Having read this account many times, I've always focused on the significance of what is in one's heart and how we should care for and treat others.
As we live through the COVID-19 health crisis, what is truly in people's hearts is being manifested. For example, the racist vitriol being hurled against Americans of East Asian descent on social media is hateful and discouraging. Coronavirus memes of Asians eating "bat soup" are popping up on Reddit, and jokes on Twitter about Chinese people eating dogs are laden with expletives. A distasteful image of Belgium college students dressed in traditional Chinese attire and holding a sign that read, "Corona Time" went viral on Facebook and Instagram. The images have been taken down but have already done damage by adding to the narrative of Asian stereotypical tropes.
In the midst of the worst in people being exposed, there are always stories of the triumph of benevolence and love. In Bend, Oregon, a 25-year-old professional runner named Rebecca Mehra happened to come across a senior couple in their 80s who were afraid to go into their local grocery store. Mehra explained on Twitter that the couple had been waiting outside in their car for almost 45 minutes. They beckoned her to come over, and the elderly woman gave Mehra $100 and a shopping list. She told Mehra that she and her husband were "waiting to ask the right person for help." Mehra did not hesitate to assist them and in a later CNN interview urged viewers to "look out for the other folks in your community" and "be kind to your neighbor."
A time such as this calls for an overflow of kindness to our neighbors. In one of my prayers this week, I asked God to help me to never be selfish again. The things that I complained about long before COVID-19 hit are miniscule compared with the suffering and loss that we are witnessing around us. I am now thinking about the small gestures I can do that will mean a lot, such as greeting a grocery worker who is sanitizing carts and thanking a checkout clerk for being patient with a long line of customers. I need to check up on my friends who are health care workers on the frontlines caring for those who are ill, and email or text my colleagues who are working from home, as I am. I am reminded of Romans 14:7, which says, "for none of us liveth to himself," which means that we cannot be self-centered and morally insensitive. This is especially true as we fight the coronavirus pandemic. I've read many news stories that have boldly stated that we are in this crisis together. So, as we face the coming days, think about what's being revealed in your heart. Someone's survival may depend on your compassion.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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