“Just a few days ago, the word "caremongering" did not exist. Yet just three days later what started as a way to help vulnerable people in Toronto has turned into a movement spreading fast across Canada.”
The above came from a BBC news article examining a recent trend that has awoken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Caremongering. What a word to have next to Canada in the dictionary. Just as I believe that true generosity comes into being when the gift costs the giver something, so too do I believe that deep care comes into being when the giver is asked to count the cost. Imagine my surprise to look around and see people signing up anyways.
I have been watching hourly news updates with equal amounts of clarity and horror as COVID-19 shuts down restaurant after school after business.
“What is happening? Do you know? How long will this last?” we ask each other. No one knows. We pray for the family of victims so suddenly taken. We pray for politicians, public health officials, and those stranded abroad. We pray for the vulnerable, the frontline workers, the fearful, and those hooked up to the too-few ventilators. These are extraordinary times.
Even so, it is in the midst of the fear and worry that I hope to bring a bit of light by amplifying a different kind of extraordinary unfolding all about us. Those who know me are aware that I have been banging on about “belonging to one another” since I was about 22 years old. It was in a counter-cultural community in a New York City basement church when I heard the phrase, and have since never been the same. And while I have seen glimpses of it here and there over the years, I am suddenly seeing a revolution of belonging all around me.
There is a walking club that has been organized in my neighbourhood. I have received texts offering extra groceries or toilet paper should I need it. I received a call from a fellow staff member who checked in because they know I do not live with my family.
“Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything,” they said. I got mysteriously teary-eyed and said thank-you for checking in and yes, I would call – I promise – if I need anything.
The buy-and-sell pages in my city are inundated with offers of help from total strangers to assist the old and vulnerable in specific geographic neighbourhoods. I laughed out loud yesterday when I heard that someone nearby has hooked up a trailer to their bike and is offering to do front-door deliveries if anyone is in need. Our local bookstore and coffee shop will deliver packages of books and coffee to the doorstep free of charge. Twenty-two members of my family were up late last night on a Canada-wide Zoom call to combat social isolation.
I’ve received emails from our internet and hydro companies waving charges for extra fees during these uncertain times. The latest update on our neighbourhood NextDoor app reads:
“I am making meals to deliver to [a high-risk youth shelter] tomorrow by noon. I am also making up a box of food for the pantry. If anyone wants to contribute I will leave a box on my step at this street at the corner of such and such in our neighbourhood.”
The bar down the street posted a plea asking that despite the push to support small business, neighbours consider donating first to the food bank.
My neighbourhood is not an exception, though. We are merely a geographically specific expression of the belonging that is unfolding across the globe. You can stream operas and symphonies for free, tour museums online you might never get to visit, and do the same with certain zoos or aquariums. In Italy, people are singing and playing music on their balconies together. In Spain, people flooded their porches to clap at 10 p.m. for their brave healthcare providers. In Canada, various people are hosting story times and recording readings online; Montreal teenagers are offering free babysitting services to those who have run out of options; and I have heard stories of airport shuttles being organized.
We are learning how to enact a consciousness for people we should have all year round: the old, sick, those who live alone, those who live in cramped quarters, the vulnerable and lonely. I believe we are releasing those who experience this reality without a virus finally to put words to the needs they have all year round.
A friend wrote, “This is my last elevator ride for awhile. I’m working from home until further notice. I’m feeling a bit nervous to work alone actually. Check in on your single friends, folks!”
And we should! An elderly person responded to a recent offer of help on a neighbourhood forum saying, “Thank you. I am a senior and I feel much more supported now.” And they should! They should feel this way not only in a time of crisis.
As Anser Daud wrote in the Globe and Mail earlier this week, “Regardless of whether or not coronavirus persists, when it comes to health, we must understand that we’re greater than the sum of our individual parts – but less than we could be, if we ignore our weakest ones.”
While I am only on Day 4 of my personal “social distancing” experience, I am starting to see what my friend Ben means when he quotes theologian Frederick Buechner as saying, “The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.”
So, if we truly “are each other’s business” as the poet Gwendolyn Brooks would claim, then I want us to be conscious in the midst of all the loss and fear that this too is the story we are writing together. It is a story of patience and love and generosity and belonging. It is the story of learning and leaning together in uncertain times. And this? This is a story we can be proud of.