In this crisis, we have an opportunity for gratitude and service

Members of the New York Army National Guard assist Hope Community Services to pack food for distribution March 18, 2020, in New Rochelle, N.Y., an area with multiple cases of coronavirus. (CNS photo/Andrew Kelly, Reuters)

“Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” said former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. His adage came to mind as I surveyed the human and economic wreckage strewn in the wake of the coronavirus.

Also known as COVID-19, the virus is slashing its way through the world’s countries, continent by continent. Some countries have done a good job of testing and identifying those likely to be infected.

Ours is not one of them. This leaves us a bit in the dark, with some people saying millions may eventually be infected and others disbelieving the concern of the experts.

Governments and organizations can no longer wait for definitive data, however, and are taking dramatic steps to curb the spread of the disease. If this is our new reality — standing six feet apart and giving each other elbow bumps — let’s not let this crisis go to waste.

There was another crisis not long ago. The 2008 recession at first prompted a wave of articles about the upside of a stock market downslide. People were going to stop being materialistic, pundits predicted.

We looked at the vanished fortunes and the jobs lost after the wealth-obsessed frenzy of the early 2000s, and we felt remorse. This is not who we wanted to be, people said.

For a moment, people talked about focusing on families and friends, getting their priorities in order and dropping out of the rat race.

That seems like a long time ago. The gap between rich and poor, in fact the gap between rich and not so rich, has grown more acute, and until recently the stock market was soaring into the stratosphere, showing at times the same irrational exuberance of bull markets past.

Until now.

Which brings us to our current crisis and the social upheaval it is causing. Disneyland closing, sports arenas shuttered, stocks doing a backflip into the 1930s.

If it lasts, we will see the newest hired to be the first fired, as major industries and small businesses try to “right size” themselves. People will be hurting not just from the disease, but from the shockwaves of the disease.

The doctors and the scientists are tackling the virus, and we must pray for their success. But maybe we are getting a second chance at not wasting the crisis. Let’s count the ways.

First, gratitude. For those of us who can wait until the stocks rebound, for those of us whose families have not been harmed badly by the virus or its shockwaves, for those of us who have at times who have had the luxury of feeling inconvenienced by the closures and the social distancing, let’s give thanks. Gratitude is our spiritual immune system telling us we really do have all we need.

Second, resist the fear. When a crisis hits, we have two choices: give in to the fear or resist it. There is a moment early in a crisis when the news media and social media can whip us into a frothy mess of speculation and rumor. It’s one thing to be mixing kooky recipes for hand sanitizer in the kitchen. It’s more serious when we start pointing fingers and looking for scapegoats.

Third, stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about others. That is the antidote to fear. Protect the elderly and the sick. Help those who are economically hurting. Look out for the people who may have no safety net. In short, do what is needed for the common good.

In a time of polarization and social division, maybe it takes a serious crisis to remind us to stand together and care for each other.

Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at [email protected].