On an uncertain threshold

On the threshold of Phase 1

Phase 1 of Restoring Safe Service starts tomorrow–May 4–in Manitoba. It is an uncertain threshold–how to cross it? What happens when others cross it differently than we do? We are all feeling the uncertainty that lies in the invitation to do things very differently than the constant refrain of “Stay home” that we has been ringing in our ears from officials for weeks.

Think about it. What would you say if you were in your first trimester of pregnancy, you just arrived at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and were standing naked with your head freshly shaved along with 100’s of other newly arrived prisoners in rows in a courtyard–and Dr. Josef Mengele, (the “angel of death”) as he was walking by you, asked you this question: “Are you pregnant?”

During my socially-isolated COVID-19 walks outside to get some air and space, I listened to Born Survivors, the story of three women who arrived in Auschwitz early in their pregnancies who were asked this question. It was impossible…did admitting pregnancy save their lives or condemn them?

When faced with this decision, they thought fast and made a lightening quick decision. They all lied and denied the child growing in their wombs. They had no idea what the result would be.

With this decision, they lived.

They didn’t–they couldn’t–have all the information needed to make a knowledgable decision. In fact, throughout their pregnancies, as they fought for their own lives and that those of their children, they had to constantly make the best decisions they could to survive–not knowing if it would lead to death or life.

My mind has often gone back to the grit of Priska, Anka and Rachel this weekend–these women who were making life decisions without having all the facts.

They made the best decision they could, given the circumstances.

In a much lesser, but still very real way, those of us who live in Manitoba are faced with the same reality: making decisions that could impact the lives of ourselves and those we love when we don’t know. The government of Manitoba has guidelines posted that allow for Phase 1 of “Restoring Safe Service”–lots of social distancing, masks, cleaning, and so on. As of May 4th, Manitobans will be able to get our hair cut, sit at an outside cafe, go to the dentist or pick up a bouquet at the florist shop.

Some individuals can hardly wait to have an ability to be more “out and about”. Others are not changing their level of social isolation.

Some businesses are figuring out a way to open within the extensive guidelines. Others are choosing to remain closed.

Is Phase 1 just good for the economy? Will it set us up for a second wave? Is it good for cooped up people who are desperate to get out? Or will it set them up to get sick or pass on the virus to a frail loved one? Will it set Manitobans up to die that otherwise might be safe at home? Will staying inside increase business bankruptcies and personal debt beyond what a human spirit can sustain?

Here’s the thing: we are in new territory.

The province has never re-opened businesses in the midst of a pandemic for which there is no treatment or vaccine. We have been in an unprecedented time of business shut down which is not sustainable.

Manitobans want to stay safe. Manitobans want to be able to make a living. Both. We aren’t all on the same page about how to do well at the same time. Does such a page even exist?

The vulnerability of increased freedom in our province is real:

  • How will this go?
  • What will happen if we act on it and it goes poorly?
  • What will happen if we don’t act on it and stay inside?

We are entering a new era that feels uncertain. It is an opportunity to get something back–but there is no way of knowing if this will increase the risk of severe illness or death for oneself or our loved ones who are immuno-compromised.

Each business, each individual, each family are doing their best to make the right decisions for them as we enter Phase 1.

For some businesses, looking at overdue bills and the need to bring in income, they will open with all the caution and concern possible. Some are desperate to save a business they have spent a lifetime building.

Some businesses will open tomorrow in Manitoba as a matter of survival.

Other businesses, the right decision will be just the opposite. They are not at all confident of the ability to provide services in a safe manner. The concern for the health of their employees and the public means their best wisdom is to remain closed.

Some businesses will remain closed in Manitoba as a matter of survival.

Everyone is doing their best to make the best decisions given all the factors. And people will come out in very different places when they determine what best is.

These last weeks when pretty much everything was closed and we all had stay at home orders, it hasn’t been hard to be united together against the coronavirus.

Now, in Phase 1, we have (limited) options now as businesses and consumers. These next weeks are going to be challenging as we seek to stay united to fight against COVID-19. It will be tempting to take out our frustrations in judgement of others who make decisions differently than we do.

Some businesses will open or remain closed for survival in Phase 1 of Manitoba's Restoring Safe Services. Everyone is using their best wisdom

A decade from now, when this pandemic is in our rear view mirror, we will all have 20/20 hindsight. Now…the scientists and the medical team give us their best guidance given that no one has complete knowledge. And we do our best to apply that guidance for Phase 1 to our lives.

Can I invite us all to a posture of radical grace?

An invitation to Radical Grace as we begin PHase 1
  • Grace to be kind to others who make decisions so vastly different than yours
  • Mercy to those who feel the desperation points in their lives at different places than yours
  • Compassion for those who are much more cautious that you
  • Kindness to those who take different risks than the ones you are taking
  • Empathy for others, as they move forward during this pandemic, who think very differently than you

Finding our way forward in unity as a community will be challenged these next months. As we each apply the best wisdom available to our own lives it is going to look different. It will be tempting, in our fear (either of needing to stay in isolation or for the economy), to turn on each other.

I promise you, there will be a seductive pull in Phase 1 to offload our anxiety of COVID-19 and the stressed economy onto others and become hateful and viciously angry.

More than ever, I wish you peace and compassion for yourself and for others in the coming days.

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