We can turn the COVID-19 lemon into social lemonade

So many people are either self-isolating or working from home. This has created a rare gift: time. What will we do with it?

REUVEN BULKA Updated: March 16, 2020 Ottawa Citizen

You can’t socialize in person, but you can still reach out in many, many ways. Jean Levac / Postmedia News

Undoubtedly, many of us would be willing to give up almost every material thing to have the COVID-19 virus disappear. But that is not on the option list. Quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing, school closings, working at home: these are the words we are hearing. These words will not be going away any time soon.

Fortunately, the classic advice that “when life serves you lemons, make lemonade,” still applies, even though we have all been presented with mega doses of lemons. This is not to minimize the herculean issues we face, just to accentuate the opportunities.

I have always believed that people are fundamentally good, but that life sometimes gets in the way. Perhaps the greatest intrusion on our ability to be kind is time. When we are in a rush to get somewhere, usually work or an event, we might cut people off on the road. We are so focused on getting there that we allow nothing to slow us down or get in the way.

In a hurry, we are less likely to hold doors open, or hold the elevator for those rushing to get in. These are small gestures that loom large for those who benefit from them. We do not purposefully decide to be mean or oblivious. We are just in a hurry. But if we have the time, or make a conscious effort to create the time, we will yield more often, hold doors open more often, and generally be even more kind and nice.

With all the lemons that seem to be piling up daily, one thing that we all will have more of is – time. No hockey to watch, no basketball to watch, no golf to watch (except maybe re-runs), for the foreseeable future. Working at home chops so much driving time, making more time available. Schools closing likewise creates time, surely for the students. In fact, we may have too much time.

We are in social distancing mode. Why not transmute social distancing into societal concern, as a way to fill the vacuum created by social distancing.

What will we do with all this time? Will we see it as a curse, or as a gift? This most unwelcome COVID-19 intrusion on our lives does contain not a small amount of lemonade potential.

Permit me to share a few ideas.

We are used to handshakes, embraces, hugs. All this is now suspended. We are in social distancing mode. Why not transmute social distancing into societal concern, as a way to fill the vacuum created by social distancing. With time on our hands, we can contact family and friends with whom heretofore we did not have as much communication as we would have liked. Telephone, FaceTime and so on, all become golden opportunities that beckon – a great lemonade.

With the gift of time, we can look for ways to volunteer to help in these challenging times. It could be through organizations, or through calling those who are alone to ask if they need anything, and proceeding to fill that need. More lemonade. The media stories of such magnificent gestures are heartwarming and inspiring.

We realize that we are all in this together, and the more emotionally we are together, the better are our chances that we as a society will overcome this pandemic and its adverse affects. In effect, any self-transcending decision we make for the greater good of everyone becomes more than just nice. Now, such actions are potentially life-saving. Yes, we all now have the opportunity, indeed the imperative, to be life-savers. Even more lemonade.

A decision to stay home, rather than travel for a long planned pleasure trip, is a life-saving gesture. A decision to shop late at night when it is less crowded is not only prudent; it is potentially life-saving. Judicious purchasing so that others also will have an adequate supply of basic food and sanitary needs is life-saving. Terrific lemonade.

Hatchet burying is also an endeavour we can employ. In light of the present enveloping crisis, whatever dispute we may have with someone, family or former friend, becomes even more trivial. So, with time on our hands, what a great opportunity to stretch out a “hand” in friendship and reconciliation. Potent lemonade.

Being “locked up” at home, whether as a result of mandatory quarantine or self isolation, or as a result of closures, can be quite difficult. It is easier said than done, but if we saw this as a golden opportunity to create emotional connectedness when previously there was no time for it, that would be sweet lemonade.  Spousal relationships, parent-child relationships, sibling relationships – all these we will now have the time to hopefully make better.

More available time also makes more possible the realization of projects or personal goals that were on hold, such as reading or writing. A more personal lemonade.

I fervently hope and pray that we will soon overcome this most serious assault on our collective well being. Simultaneously, I fervently wish that we will use the newly available time and opportunity to enhance our immediate and personal world.

Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, C.M., is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas and President/CEO of Kind Canada Genereux

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