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Cover image taken from Picasso: “Nature morte au crane de boeuf.”

In contrast to our social distancing and isolating, there is no shortage of news and commentary on the pandemic crowding us from every side. I was fascinated to find Dharushana Muthulingam’s well written article in Vogue of all places. In her article, “Social Distancing is Good for You – but Great for Your Community”, she writes that “in 1918, one third of everyone on Earth became infected with pandemic influenza H1N1—the Spanish flu, an infection that would ultimately kill 50 million people.”

With reflection on that pandemic, and on our current one some 100 years later, she writes:


Infectious epidemics reveal, uncomfortably, our interconnectedness, and in doing so, the vulnerabilities of the social body. Infective organisms evolve with their hosts, and coronavirus flourishes among group animals (bats, birds, us).

Infections travel quickly in our time of global integration, and they exploit those vulnerabilities: lack of access to health care, underinvestment in public health infrastructure, and the gaps in our safety net for precarious workers, who are compelled to keep working even when they are sick.

The vocabulary of “Social Distancing” for our times:

We have new terms introduced to us to give sense to what we can do. “Social distancing” is meant “to break the spread of an infection passed person-to-person by keeping people from interacting. One century after the Spanish flu, we turn to the same toolbox for pandemic COVID-19.”

The Last Town on Earth” written by Thomas Mullen in 2007, is described as “an absorbing depiction of a utopian town that attempts to keep the 1918 flu epidemic at bay”. Mullen imagines a town in the Pacific Northwests, and what turns out to be their ruthless but feeble attempt at social distancing to keep the Spanish Flu out.

On my recent trip to southeast Asia as the Corona Virus was just beginning to be known, I happened to have selected to read Albert Camus’ striking book, “The Plague” written in 1947:

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world: yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads form a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

Camus imagines the town of Oran in the 1940s responding to the plague too late (Italy?). It is a town that goes into extreme social isolation as Camus describes the daily grind and the daily loss of life. (Coincidently, see Jonah Raskin’s article, “Reading Camus’ The Plague in a Time of Pandemic“).

Love in the Time of Covid 19

Muthulingam continues:

“Paradoxically, social distancing is also profoundly communal. Eula Biss, in her book on immunity and vaccination, wrote, “It is through us, literally through our bodies, that certain public health measures are enacted.” It may be that love in the time of COVID-19 means protecting each other from the dangers of being social animals. Countering infectious diseases with voluntary social distancing, hand hygiene, and vaccinations protect not only ourselves and loved ones. It is also a way we step up to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. We also do this with our social systems, with policies that buffer the economically vulnerable and ensure access to care.”

However we choose to think of the social body, we are each other’s environment. Immunity is a shared space—a garden we tend together.” Eula Biss

How are we tending our garden together?

If we are “each other’s environment”, let us consider how we may tend to the social and ecological garden together.

Keep in mind, we didn’t create the garden, we were created for the garden by the One who made us for Himself. How does faith intersect and integrate your life in this time?

What does it mean to be interconnected to God and His creation?

For more on our interconnectedness, see Dan Chiasson’s article in The New Yorker: “The Pandemic is Remaking What Performance can be“:

“The ancient space seemed incomplete, its scale uncertain, without the bustle of cavorting dogs, venders, pilgrims, couples, card players, and priests… Where were the herds of tourists? The Instagram influencers?”

I write this on the occasion of being quarantined on my 62nd birthday – reflecting on the long arc of a short life.