This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
— C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays
She is weeping with frustration, this dear neighbor I’ve known for twenty years. As a nurse in a large hospital, she is under extreme pressure from too many directions for her mind and heart to sort through anymore. I say something in reaction to one of her opinions about the corona virus and I can see that she interprets this as a challenge. She doesn’t want one more challenge, one more contradicting jab at her fragile heart. She raises her voice in protest, fear manifesting as anger, then looks shocked that she would speak to me that way. But like all of us to varying degrees, this spring of 2020 has become too overwhelming for her. She can’t bear what is different between us, only what is the same, our shared humanity.
I begin to speak gently and only to her feelings, ache, and exhaustion, validating the noble work she’s doing in unusual circumstances. Her expression changes as I listen without judgement. Human to human, her words tumble out, the power of her fear seems to slightly diffuse. I feel a small healing and hope she does. This balm of the humane moment is far more important than differences of opinion about what our reality is at this time. As C.S. Lewis exhorted his contemporaries a generation ago, no matter what happens let us all be found acting despite it. Let us do the sensible and human things; washing each other’s feet, putting aside our almighty selves to come alongside people where they are, not where we think they should be. Only that will get us through.