Skip to main content

Mindy BelzVoices Mindy Belz

On the edge of a precipice

Reaching for new life born of sorrow and suffering

In my first magazine column of 2020, I wrote about “new life born from sorrow and suffering” and asked: “Are we ready to embrace the suffering to come in the new year? And are we able to look beyond the bad-news headlines to find opportunities for helping neighbors and to glimpse more of the good news to come?”

Allow me to be the first to answer: I was not ready.

Public health experts long predicted the arrival of the once-in-a-century pathogen the COVID-19 virus turned out to be, but not the complexities it would present to those of us living through it.

The coronavirus in its essence hasn’t fooled us. Early on, the experts put its case fatality rate somewhere below the 1918 influenza pandemic of around 2 percent, and as of Dec. 6 it had a still-fluctuating worldwide rate of 2.3 percent. From the beginning it posed peculiar risks—transmitting efficiently and exponentially, each infected person spreading it to on average two or three others, and randomly killing healthy adults as well as the already-sick and the elderly. That’s why the Trump administration on Jan. 31 declared a national public health emergency.

“Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.”

We weren’t ready for its social impact, its wild disruptions to our jobs, schools, churches, and home life. We weren’t ready for living out months in this altered universe. Political upheaval and a new reckoning on race have flowed from its havoc, leaving our country changed. It’s left us thin and stretched, as Bilbo Baggins would say, like too little butter scraped over too much bread.

Few of us imagined the United States becoming the largest known carrier of the virus by midspring and remaining that way until year’s end. We move into a new year with no corner of the nation untouched. Its effects to our health as a nation, at home and abroad, will linger, may deepen, even with the coming of vaccines.

Tasting the bitter reality of the pandemic opens the door to savoring the sweet sight of two elderly Britons receiving the first vaccines on Dec. 8. “It could make a difference to our lives from now on,” said 81-year-old William Shakespeare, receiving his jab 20 miles from the birthplace of his namesake, who lived his entire life in the shadow of bubonic plague.

Past and present meet all over. C.S. Lewis addressed students at Oxford in 1939 on learning in wartime. “The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it,” he said. “Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.”

Some of the lessons from the pandemic will have us retreat from 21st-century life as we knew it, and that will be good. I love hearing the stories of teens and 20-somethings making their way this year: students enduring long school days in masks, or youth groups leaving meals on the doorsteps of elderly church members. (You can recall along with me at our “Creative coronavirus help” page.) My friends who are mothers of teens say they are relishing this time with children who have no choice but to sit and talk with their parents in the evening. 

And the journalist in me—especially after covering disease and disruption in other parts of the world—is struck by the nearness of these events at home. For everyone now the news of the day isn’t abstract or far away: We are wearing it on our faces. I hope this translates into compassion for the wider world, as I believe 2021 will bring global disruptions in ways we now only can glimpse. 

Advent was made for these times. The coming of Jesus brought confrontation and upheaval, a disturbance of the established order, and an always-needed reminder: Miracles are real.


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • SonoitaMike
    Posted: Sun, 12/20/2020 10:19 am

    Excellent article, thanks for sharing.