Noticing, in pandemic times

"You’ve been involved in a world-changing moment, and you may not have even noticed. This unusual period of history has given opportunity to notice other things." Art: MuchMania/Shutterstock
Published June 30, 2020

Have you noticed that we’ve all been involved in a world-changing moment? Maybe not: read on.

In a study on the impact of anti-contagion policies on the transmission of COVID-19, a research team from the University of California, Berkeley, proved that large-scale interventions prevented or delayed approximately 62 million confirmed cases, thereby averting roughly 530 million total infections. “It’s as if the roof was about to fall in, but we caught it before it crushed everyone,” Simon Hsiang, lead researcher, told Berkeley News. “But by coming together, we did something as a society that nobody could have done alone, and which has never been done before.”

His words (“we did something as a society that nobody could have done alone, and which had never been done before”) brought to mind Jesus’s words from John’s Gospel, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13). Through the past few months, many aspects of our “normal” lives have been laid down, in part from self-interest of not being infected, but also, from a public health perspective, to protect each other.

You’ve been involved in a world-changing moment, and you may not have even noticed. This unusual period of history has given opportunity to notice other things. Not only have many of us been more attentive to the beauty of springtime, but we have also had time to allow current events to register more deeply.

Pre-pandemic, the video of George Floyd’s asphyxiation at the hands of police might have receded quickly in the 24-hour news cycle as the world scurried on with the fast-paced flow of life. Not this time.

For many people in North America and indeed around the world, the impact of seeing a video of almost nine minutes with an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck seeped into collective consciousness, releasing long-held anger about the inequalities that so define racism.

For those who had been noticing, those inequalities had already stood out in stark relief as the infection rate of COVID-19 disproportionately affected non-white, underprivileged communities. The world has slowed down enough for more of us to notice. And noticing is important: sadly, many still don’t see what’s become so obvious to so many.

For example, incidents of police brutality in Canada towards Indigenous people have registered more deeply on the consciousness of many non-Indigenous Canadians. The photo of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam’s facial injuries, sustained after allegedly being assaulted by police officers, deeply alarmed many, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. People are noticing things, not only because life has slowed down, but also because the pandemic has underlined two intersecting realities previously ignored: that human beings are vulnerable, and that we are all interconnected.

It’s important to notice how vulnerable and interconnected we are.

The virus has been a potent reminder that human life is vulnerable. Even with all the conveniences and privileges that many enjoy, an easily transmitted, invisible virus caused the shutdown of much in our communities. The wisest of governments heeded the best of science and have been largely able to “flatten the curve” of infection. Wearing masks, limiting social interaction and sheltering in place have provided for a time in which we’re more aware of our vulnerability and of how deeply our lives are, in fact, interconnected.

It should come as no surprise that vulnerability and interconnectedness resonate deeply in human consciousness. Across the United States and Canada, and indeed around the world, people have risen up in protest, toppling monuments that celebrated leaders whose actions furthered slavery, injustice and oppression. Canadian Anglican bishops, led by our primate, issued a statement on racial justice as old documents like “A Charter for Racial Justice” were dusted off.

More and more people are noticing the vulnerability and interconnectedness of human life.  Telling the story of how human life is vulnerable and interconnected is a key part of the proclamation of the gospel.

It remains to be seen whether this moment of “noticing” lasts and grows, whether the attention that has been given to racial injustice will grow into lasting change. But one hopes that the hunkering down that this pandemic time has demanded might result in an increased thirst for justice and peace.

What are you noticing these days?


  • Peter Elliott

    The Very Rev. Peter Elliott is adjunct faculty at Vancouver School of Theology. From 1994 to 2019 he served as dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver.

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