Responding to

"Everywhere in life, the true question is not what we gain,
but what we do." 
Thomas Carlyle
I was speaking with an acquaintance the other day who is an essential worker. She's a cashier at a grocery store and we've gotten to know each other over the years. It was early last Monday morning and the stream of customers was pretty constant. The line outside the store was long.

I asked her how she was doing. She said she was grateful she had a job but that she hated coming to work anymore. "Some people are really horrible." She then told me that the day before, she asked a customer to please pull up his face mask so that it covered his nose as well as his mouth before he came through her check-out line. His response was to tell her she was "Just a cashier and couldn't tell him what to do." He then called her a "f***ing b**ch.” She refused to check the customer out, asking her manager to step in.

Her story seems to encapsulate much of what has troubled me about the past nine months. On the one hand, many people have risen to the challenges of the pandemic and are doing all they can to slow the spread of a deadly virus. On the other hand, there are those who believe they are under no obligation to do anything that might impinge on their perceived freedom or comfort, even if it could help someone else.

If anything, the pandemic seems to have brought out either the very best in people or the very worst. There's not much in-between.

In a recent opinion piece, Pope Francis wrote "It is all too easy for some to take an idea — for example, personal freedom — and turn it into an ideology, creating a prism through which they judge everything." In the story my cashier-friend shared, not only was the customer exceptionally rude while also displaying his disregard for the pain and suffering of so many others, he was making it clear that only his needs had value. The needs of others didn't matter.

Certainly, the pandemic is not the root cause of people's disregard for others - that's always been there. But given its global scope, the pandemic seems to have brought people's self-absorption into sharper focus. As the Pope observed, "The coronavirus crisis may seem special because it affects most of humankind. But it is special only in how visible it is. There are a thousand other crises that are just as dire, but are just far enough from some of us that we can act as if they don’t exist." I'm not Catholic so I don't typically pay close attention to the Pope's writings. But he's right. Too many people seem to view the world through their own self-interests. The needs of others are of little, if any, importance.
I think part of the problem is that we're lonelier now than we've ever been. I know we're frightened. For some, these feelings make us want to reach out to others and do what we can to help them. Helping others lessens our focus on our own worries. But for others, the feelings simply drive a wedge between ourselves and the rest of the world. Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, writes, "On top of all of this, it seems we no longer agree on what is true. We aren’t just fighting over our opinions of facts; we are polarized over whether the fact is, in fact, a fact. We are at odds over whether science is real. We are at odds over whether an election has been won or lost. We are at odds over the value of compromise. That polarization, coupled with the social isolation required to fight this pandemic, has left us feeling more alone than ever."

Kitchen Angels is a kind of bubble that has helped insulate me from much of the world's obsession with "self." Certainly, our staff, donors and volunteers tend to be the opposite of self-absorbed, frequently going to great lengths to help our clients and each other.

I've written before that the pandemic is a potent reminder we're all in the same boat. Actually, we all share the same planet. To pretend my actions don't impact others is to blind myself to that reality. Pope Francis concludes his piece with this: "To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future."

We just celebrated a holiday focused on gratitude and giving thanks. Many of us suspended our family traditions and holiday travel in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. More than seven million people, however, chose to fly, despite the health risks and warnings. I worry what that will mean for the coming weeks. If we're ever going to find the solidarity that the Pope speaks of, many of us are going to have to suspend our self-focus and accept that the needs of others are at least just as important as our own. We don't need to agree with each other. But it's OK to consider what things must be like from someone else's point of view and then modify our behavior in response. We can at least tone down the rhetoric. It's that kind of consideration that will help break down some of the polarization and loneliness that has engulfed us all.

Thank you for continuing to support Kitchen Angels. And thank you for doing everything you can to keep yourself and others as safe and as healthy as possible.

In gratitude,
Thank you for all your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.