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Faith and Values: Don’t escape the empathy for your neighbors during the coronavirus pandemic

Tracy Simmons writes for the Faith and Values page of The Spokesman-Review. (Tracy Simmons)
Tracy Simmons writes for the Faith and Values page of The Spokesman-Review. (Tracy Simmons)
Tracy Simmons

I’ve found a way to stay perfectly disconnected from what’s happening.

On Monday, between Zoom calls, I went on a 3-hour bike ride to get away from the news alerts popping up on my screen.

On Wednesday I stepped away from my computer to explore the neighborhood with my dog, Finn.

I had just read a story about a 13-year-old girl in Colorado who died from COVID-19. No thanks, I slammed my computer shut and walked out the door.

More people are losing their jobs, businesses are going under, the homeless can’t take shelter. I don’t want to acknowledge those headlines, so I wander into the woods for a hike.

I’m a writer, professor and introvert. Working from home isn’t unfamiliar to me, and I am quite comfortable sitting at my desk for hours with my favorite music playing in the background.

I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to work remotely, and although my contract ends in just a few weeks, I’ve been able to plan for it and have enough money saved to get me by until the fall semester.

No one I know —that I know of — has the virus.

My only connection to the coronavirus, really, is what I hear on NPR, read in the paper or write about for SpokaneFā

I’m realizing that I’m privileged enough to live in a bubble.

Life for me isn’t all that unusual, just more secluded.

I get to escape when the headlines become too much, or when my friends’ social media posts are too sad. I get to escape, like I always do when I don’t want to deal with something.

And that can be dangerous.

Staying busy, staying too busy, has always been how I cope. It’s an easy way to distract myself from worry, or anger, or any other uncomfortable emotion.

Even though I’m doing OK stuck at home, even I can only go on so many bike rides and dog walks and can only stare at my Mac for so many hours before I become antsy and bored.

I’ve been listening to that restlessness.

This pandemic has given us opportunity to learn and practice much. I’ve heard my friends reflect on how grateful they are for their health. Others are using the time to meditate, or are creating new habits of checking in with loved ones.

Those are valuable spiritual practices, but for me the greatest lesson is in slowing down. If I’m always racing to the next thing, the next moment, I’m missing the right-now moments. I’m not living in the present. Currently the present is pretty difficult, but that doesn’t mean I should run from it.

I don’t know who said these words, but they ring true to me, especially now: “At some point you just have to let go of what you thought should happen and live in what is happening.”

Not everyone gets to escape, and if I want to have compassion for the world around me and love my neighbors, I cannot turn away. I need to connect. I need to surrender myself to the heartache our world is feeling. That kinship is what makes us human.

That means sitting through these disturbing moments. It means forcing myself to feel the emotions stirring within me. It means facing the plight of my neighbors, my community. It means sympathizing with those who are suffering right now, instead of turning a blind eye.

That’s the way out of my bubble.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a University of Idaho lecturer and the editor of SpokaneFaVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.

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