When I was a kid, my brothers and I published a neighborhood newspaper called The Broadway Blab. Each issue was two pages of salacious gossip and was quite successful until our parents, who had apparently never heard of the First Amendment, confiscated our pencils and shut us down. At the time, I believed censorship to be the worst thing to befall a writer, but I now know having to write a timely and relevant column four months in advance is a far greater challenge. For instance, I’m writing this a few short days after Indiana’s governor banned nonessential travel due to COVID-19, but still don’t know whether this will be the worst pandemic in modern history or a viral blip that will end as quickly as it began. I don’t know much about viruses, except that they are wholly indifferent to their reputation and reception.
I’ve been pastoring 36 years, and this is the first time I’ve been unable to visit people, so I feel as useless as the Oxford comma. Worse yet, the people I’m unable to visit appear to be doing just fine without me. I guess that makes me nonessential, in today’s parlance. It’s sobering to realize the Earth keeps right on spinning without you.
The coronavirus has caused me to postpone my summer plan to ride my motorcycle through the South in search of the best fried chicken. Wouldn’t it be amazing to discover that eating large quantities of fried chicken killed the coronavirus? Fried chicken is so wonderful, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. My wife has said that since I won’t be taking a motorcycle trip, I might as well paint the inside of our house, so it turns out I’m useful for something after all. I’d rather wreck my motorcycle and slide on my face a hundred yards down a gravel road than paint.
Now back to The Broadway Blab. The reason we printed gossip is because nothing of note ever happened in our town. It was a thoroughly Christian town, populated by people who zealously guarded their reputations. Being a virtuous town, it was painfully boring, which is why my brothers and I resorted to spinning tales out of whole cloth, scandalizing our neighbors, who told us how terrible it was before buying their weekly issue.
I’d rather have a broken heart than a hardened one.
Having a personal history of sensationalism has made me more keenly aware of it today, so I’m dismissing both the rosy predictions of this virus and the most ominous ones. Lopping off the extremes, I am left to believe COVID-19 will do more harm than some first believed, but not as much as some feared. It has already taught us that borders are meaningless against our most dangerous enemies, viruses being no respecter of walls or fences, no matter how stout or tall. It has also reminded us how precious we are to each other, when word of a sick friend reaches us, and we pause to pray and hope for their well-being. We are being asked to believe the world’s seven and a half billion people are of one family, each one treasured and esteemed. One’s heart could easily break under such a regimen of love, but then I’d rather have a broken heart than a hardened one.
Finally, we are being introduced to a new category of heroes, beyond the tireless healthcare workers we’ve long admired. We have seen the growers of food soldier on, and the bravery of those who transport it, who stock it on grocery shelves, who ring it up and bag it up, with a smile and greeting, their very presence a silver lining in this darkened cloud.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series featuring Sam Gardner.
This article is featured in the July/August 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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