Happy St Patrick’s Day … well happy if you’ve found a bar that’s open or if you’re drinking right now. But for millions of the human race this day will have been another harrowing day in the shadow of the Coronavirus which, I understand, is called Miley Cyrus in the UK. That would be amusing if this whole thing were something to laugh about but it’s deadly serious.
I’ve just come from conversations with my brothers in UK who are expressing due concern about mum. Drastic measures seem to be called for in the hope that she will maintain herself during these months when self-isolation is so necessary. And I’m here in Florida where we are beginning to share in the fallout from this pandemic.
After being told for days that the authorities have everything under control the President did a poorly disguised volte face and declared a state of emergency. For a couple of weeks the churches have relied on preventative measures but have still hosted gatherings for Mass etc. I had hoped that our bishop might stop Masses happening after a meeting yesterday but it appears more days must pass before this is announced, if indeed it will be. I can however see some sense in each of the Florida Dioceses conferring and agreeing on a joint statement so that they may be in line with Florida State pronouncements. Last night it was announced that local bars and restaurants would close early at 10pm. Today the State Governor announced that restaurants would close earlier than that and that bars would cease business at 5pm. I see the sense in this but I also see the hardship this will bring. Workers in bars are paid a pittance but gain a decent amount from tips which makes the job worthwhile for most. The tips will dry up and the hours will be drastically reduced and what can they live on?
This pandemic will affect everyone economically, I’m afraid to say. So since we are all experiencing the Common Bad you might have thought that considering the Common Good might have been an attractive option … but no! Supermarkets shelves are empty of essentials (milk, eggs, meat, water, energy drinks (!), and toilet paper). Hoarding is not a possibility for the poor. Folk who have grown accustomed to living from paycheck to paycheck now have to suffer the indignity and anxiety of where their next loo roll is coming from!
The globalisation of our world seems to predict that we all want to hoard the same items. When a hurricane threatens here it is the same items that disappear from shelves even though the actual location of the emergency is more contained than anything this Covid-19 can embrace. I’ve just read that small local grocers in UK operate more fairly than the larger concerns with strict limits on multiple purchases. The vendor knows the purchaser and the purchaser knows this. In the best cases there is a sense of community and a responsibility that goes with membership of community. The mindless hoarding is self-centred and therefore unhuman. In essence human beings are relational but you’d have a hard job proving that to a visiting Martian!
Myself I’m in one of those ‘at risk’ groups owing to my diabetes. I’ve already had to advise my pastor that this condition made me uncomfortable attending Mass albeit as an employed Director of Music. The impact of this decision is unlikely to be relevant as pretty soon we may hear that in Florida as in other States the Bishops will be forced into the position of withdrawing public Mass. This may mean that we’d have to live-stream one Sunday Mass in English and another in Spanish (again, as in other States). Now I could cope with that as I’d imagine only the celebrant, possibly a reader, me singing at the organ/piano and a camera man being present and thus there being a reduced risk.
My youngest brother has just returned from France. It was no holiday. His daughter Alice had been working in a ski-resort in the French Alps. With no planes flying in Europe there were no skiers and no business. So my brother had to drive to this furthest point in France, collect his daughter and drive back. He tells me that whilst the effect of the virus was clear on the way down it was harrowingly empty on the return journey. Everything is closed. These are worrying times indeed and we must be serious about them. Some of our politicians may be laughable in their response but increasingly a more considered approach is being maintained.
So all of this falls at a time when I am considering my own mortality. The recent deaths of Graham Maule and Peter MacDonald, both friends through the Iona Community and both living only 61 years has prompted this introspection. The redeeming grace that both their funerals shared was such joy.
So as I ‘self-isolate’ between office and home my joy is increased by the fact that I have a job, am well paid and am in generally good health (apart from a collapse in November, falling from a barstool in January and damaging both knee caps and a constant cold for the past 3 weeks). Even then I am still joyful despite realising that I have lived here long enough now to get ‘allergies’. Feeling bunged up? It will be allergies that is the cause! I never had ‘allergies’ in the UK so this is all a bit of a mystery … (joyful mystery?).
I’ve cancelled all my Airbnb guests and although I enjoyed the varied company it’s good to have my own space again. I’m even expanding the patio to accommodate all the bargain patio furniture I’ve acquired. And the days are gloriously sunny right now so the space will get some use, I’m sure.