Today, like many days recently, I am thinking about humility. Now let me start by recognizing that this is not a word or concept usually associated with television news anchors, and for good reason. But what can be more humbling than this virus?
It is striking fear into people all over the world, simultaneously. It seems to kill with a capriciousness that has infused even experienced medical professionals with a mixture of deep dread and grudging awe. But it must be said, again and again, that it is infecting the most vulnerable members of society at higher rates in what appears to be due to a combination of societal, economic, and health inequities.
The syncopations of life are altered rendering our neighborhoods unrecognizable. Shuttered storefronts,. Empty streets. Closed schools. Our daily rhythms of life are no more. We don’t gather at restaurants. We don’t watch live sports. We don’t plan trips to visit family and friends. We can’t even visit our sick and dying relatives in hospital. Heartbreaking and humbling. Very humbling.
Then there is the reality that we seem to be the only species on Earth affected by this new killer. The wild animals that are taking to city streets, the canals of Venice, and other locations usually crowded with people seem so confident where we are tentative. They are a reminder that the totality of nature is much bigger and more resilient than the domain of homo sapiens.
And this is ultimately one of the biggest lessons of these times. If we don’t approach the rest of our planet, and each other, with a lot more humility we increase the risk to our own health and happiness. The coronavirus is the most obvious threat, but even now the grinding mechanisms of our climate crisis are further eroding the safety of our collective future.
We may not all feel that today, but I get the sense that young people especially do. I have heard from many friends of how their children are linking the coronavirus and climate. They are worried about their future. And for very good reason. They might not all understand the vocabulary of humility and conceit but they probably understand better than many of their elders the life and death ramifications of not taking threats seriously. And what can be, or damn well better be, more humbling than that?