Updated: May 3, 2020
Nothing should go back to normal. Normal wasn’t working. If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson. May we rise up and do better. — Internet Meme, author unknown
At 5:12 AM on Wednesday, April 18th, 1906, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck San Francisco. Over 80 percent of the city was destroyed. Out of a population of 410,000, as many as 300,000 of them were suddenly homeless. Infrastructure collapsed. Fires erupted everywhere, causing even more devastation. Many of the displaced fled across the bay to Oakland and Berkeley in a desperate attempt to find food and shelter.
There was a particular little girl living in Oakland at the time with her family. Her name was Dorothy Day. She was 9 years old. As tens of thousands of refugees flooded into her town, she watched with amazement as the people of her city lovingly welcomed them with open arms. They gave what they had to those in need—their food, their clothing, even their homes. They did all they could to make sure everyone was cared for through the many weeks and months of devastation and displacement that followed.
That outpouring of love and care struck Dorothy very deeply, and would go on to shape her own life in profound ways. Why, she wondered, couldn’t people care for one another this lovingly all the time?
As she grew into adulthood, she became convinced that the love and care that emerged out of that tragic event could become the “new normal” for society—all we had to do was choose it. So in 1933, while living and working in New York City, she and a few others founded the Catholic Worker Movement, establishing a "house of hospitality" in the middle of the city where the homeless, the hungry, and the forsaken would always be welcome.
Today there are over 200 Catholic Worker communities in the United States and around the world. In fact, my friend Gary lives and works at the CW community in Tacoma, Washington, offering the same kind of open-handed love and care to people in need that Dorothy first witnessed as a child in the wake of the San Francisco earthquake.
Paul Engler, director of The Center for the Working Poor, believes we are in the middle of a similar kind of seminal moment right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are times in history when sudden events — natural disasters, economic collapses, pandemics, wars, famines — change everything. They change politics, they change economics and they change public opinion in drastic ways. Many social movement analysts call these ‘trigger events.’ During a trigger event, things that were previously unimaginable quickly become reality, as the social and political map is remade.” — Paul Engler
In recent weeks, we’ve all witnessed the rising tide of kindness and practical acts of love for our neighbors, from delivering supplies and groceries to those most at risk in our communities, to sharing stories of good news and acts of love across the web to keep each other’s spirits up, to cheering for our frontline workers from our porches and balconies every day, to the simple act of checking in on our neighbors periodically just to make sure they’re okay.
And the love hasn’t stopped there. For the first time in decades, families are making dinner and sharing meals together. They’re having game nights. They’re making hilarious lip-sync videos. They’re offering their gifts online to encourage others.
This pandemic is terrible. Millions have gotten sick. Thousands are dying. The economic impact will be devastating for many. But in the middle of it all, some truly good things are coming to life.
It begs the question:
When all this is over, how will we be different?
I think it all depends on what we choose.
Let me make that more direct: I think it all depends on what you choose. Because at the end of the day, positive change in society comes down to the individual. It’s not what “they” will do that matters. It’s what you will do. Or not do. So maybe the better question to ask is this:
When all this is over, how do you want your life to be different?
“We can choose to see this as a tremendous opportunity. This is a moment to be heroic. To think about others. To serve. To prepare. To keep calm. To reassure. To protect. This is a time to reevaluate our priorities. To ask ourselves what’s important and what we’re working towards.” — Ryan Holiday
Now is the time to re-dream the future.
I’m not being unrealistic. I know we won’t stay lovey-dovey forever. But we can still choose a better way long term. Dorothy Day believed a more loving world was possible, and out of that belief she made a choice that has impacted the lives of thousands of people over the last 87 years.
Don’t underestimate the ripple effect your own choice could make.
I challenge you to take time this week to create your own "re-dream" vision for your post-pandemic life. Here are some questions to get you started:
What "new good" do you see in the world that this pandemic has made possible?
What are key lessons this experience can teach us about creating a better life?
How do you want life to be different after the danger has passed?
How do you want your life to be different?
What must you do to make that change happen?
What must you do to make that change last?
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” — Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Resources for Deeper Exploration: