Here is a story about two women, centuries apart, who personify a special breed of humans we only witness during dark days. Most other times, we are too busy focusing on ourselves and everything we do not have that we must run after —like toilet paper and taut foreheads! As a result, we have no time nor energy to look up and around us to learn from the lessons ordinary people like these extraordinary women teach us about compassion, responsibility, and integrity. Specks of light are always visible in the darkness. They are so powerful and magical in their illumination, they simply light up the world. They quietly but eloquently show us the healing and protective powers of empathy and kindness. And they so gracefully embody faith, trust, and human resilience far better than any book or guru can ever explain.
Marguerite Bond graduated from Simmons College at 22 years old with a Bachelor of Science degree in Bacteriology during World War I. While the men were fighting the war, she was holding the fort back home, becoming the first woman in US history to run a laboratory. In the spring of 1918, the Spanish Influenza (H1N1) was first identified among military personnel, spreading so fast it would end up infecting 500 million people worldwide. Bond would finish her work at the lab and head straight to volunteer at the local hospital that was dealing with a pandemic not unlike what we are potentially facing today. The Spanish Flu eventually killed an estimated 50 million people, the majority of whom were young children under the age of 5, 20-40 year-olds, and adults over 65 years of age. (To put it in perspective, World War I killed around 20 million people.) Even though Bond was 22 years old and in direct contact with the virus as a result of her work both at the lab and the hospital, she never got infected and in fact lived a long, healthy life to the age of 100.
On March 13, 2020, as the public school system in New Mexico was getting ready to shut down for three weeks, Bond’s granddaughter Anne left her work as a social worker with the Public School Board and drove to the home of a family she knew would be hit hard by the decision to close schools. Their children depended on the meals provided at school for sustenance. She carried with her food vouchers to support them during this time of hardship. Anne is in her mid-60s. She is technically a vulnerable target for the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Anne will not be affected. Like her grandmother before her. They are the ones immune to viruses.
Their immune system is fortified with compassion —not vitamin C tablets, antibacterial wipes, and Air Doctor. It resides in healthy hearts fuelled by a strong sense of responsibility that is deeply intertwined with purpose.
I assume that like me, you are overwhelmed, anxious, and a little fed up of hearing about this latest pandemic. I also bet you are watching with amazement the rising numbers of experts that seem to have popped up in the past couple of weeks, including yours truly. I will spare you the advice and recommendations. You know what you need to assess and reconsider. If you have been constantly ill, you know that your immune system is compromised. You do not need an “expert” to tell you that an unhealthy, gluttonous diet amplified by lack of sleep & exercise, and a large dose of stress is a recipe for disaster, pandemic or not. Most of humanity plays Russian roulette with health anyway. Health bypassing is probably the most serious pandemic we face, but it is not sexy, it is nameless, and it is so difficult to quantify we have better things to worry about —like COVID-19.
I will say this. Those specks of light have gifted me a fleeting experience of awareness that compels me to share a couple of observations that have shaken my world: we are all connected. And our connection is what will save us.
A choice someone made at the other end of the planet from me in a wet market on a brisk morning some months ago gave birth to a microscopic virus that has swept the world and paralyzed its health and economy. One error of judgment has brought us to our knees.
It is so simple —and ever so complex. Our choices as powerful humans who exercise control over every other being on the planet —including the planet herself— have an impact. Destruction or construction. We choose.
Our choices have an impact. Because we are connected.
While I am connected to everyone, I have no control over the choices they make. I only have control over myself. And I choose compassion.
I choose life.
Destruction does not need my help. It is alive and well. And will continue to weave its ugly webs through life, for that is the story of creation.
These are by far the darkest days I have personally witnessed. Destruction has ravaged hope. A friend described to me how his legs could not carry him when he saw an elderly woman last week collapsing on the sidewalk wailing from helplessness, desperately praying for Light.
You know what follows helplessness? Freedom, the freedom that comes from surrender when we have nothing to lose. And everything to gain.
My friend could not carry himself on his legs. But he could use his arms. And his words. So he picked up the woman. He helped her find shelter from the rain. She filled his heart. He was reminded of his endless well of compassion.
Our immune system needs nourishment every day of our lives. There is no pill that will miraculously transform it overnight. No amount of vitamin C can reverse the adverse effects of a lifetime of damaging choices. The unsexy truth is that we need to make small choices that support the natural —default— state of balance and health. And they require effort.
It is as important to support our natural state of spiritual wellness and purity. That is the true essence of our humanity in its wholistic experience. And it is not displayed in mosques and temples, in turbans and veils. It is lived right now as we figure out how to deal with pandemics and suffering, with destruction and errors of judgment. It is exemplified in hospital wards and battlefields, in public schools and homes. Kindness/compassion/empathy/service/honesty/integrity/courage/a strong moral compass to govern our dealings and behaviours is the antidote we so desperately need to heal our broken world.
Our personal choices have an impact. Trust those in the cockpit. They are flying the plane. But do your part. Pick up your neighbour when helplessness takes her down. Be responsible for your own health —and the health of everyone around you.
Choose construction. Destruction needs no help.
Stay well. Eat plants. Plant seeds.
“If the hour rises and you have a seedling in your hand, plant it.”
—Prophet Mohammad Peace Be Upon Him