We’re living in the midst of what some folks believe is the worst disaster in history: the coronavirus pandemic.
Workers in “non-essential” businesses are at home, schools and churches are closed, unemployment is soaring, and the government is handling out trillions of dollars to keep things afloat.
Yes, it is a difficult time and tens of thousands of people around the world are sick and dying. But as is usually the case, those suffering in the present forget the suffering of the past.
World War I was worse. World War II was worse. Plagues in the Middle Ages were worse. Plagues in Ancient Greece were worse. We could debate for hours about what was the worst of the worse.
Like most folks, after more than a month under quarantine, I’m a bit weary. I want to walk in the park, fish, and sit in a neighborhood restaurant and enjoy a meal served by a happy and employed person.
This brings me to what is really eating me today; how do we define “essential”. Essential businesses can stay open. Non-essential business must close. And there are some that seem to fall partly into both categories.
Essential enterprises include grocery stores, gas stations, and cannabis dispensaries.
Non-essential businesses include hair salons, book stores, and health clubs.
There are hybrids. Restaurants can’t seat customers but can offer carryout or delivery. Big box department stores can stay open if they offer groceries.
Of course, this means that if you own an essential business you still have income and can pay your employees.
If you have a non-essential business you may face total failure despite government assistance programs.
What I consider to be essential may be different than what you deem essential. I’m sure we could agree grocery stores are essential. Perhaps you are grateful that you can still buy cannabis; I don’t care if those shops close and stay closed – forever.
This situation makes me think about what really is essential in life. We can start with the basest of basics: air, water, food. Then we progress through shelter, companionship, the ability to create art and music, to our spiritual relationship with God.
All these things are essential; some are more urgent than others. For example, air is so urgent a need that without it you die in a matter of minutes. The ability to create art and music may not be urgent but it is essential to what makes us human.
Who am you or I do judge what is essential or non-essential? Today, my urgent needs are being met but the truly essential needs are difficult to obtain.
Being with my children and grandchildren is essential… and that essential need is beginning to feel urgent. When the quarantine lifts — supposedly in about a month — there will many beautiful reunions.
I need confession and the Eucharist. I need the community of the faithful, live and in-person as opposed to on a computer screen.
I need to be human again.