Coronavirus and Human Frailty
In the midst of this very tumultuous and uncertain time, the recent spread of coronavirus has highlighted something I have been shown in the last few months. Frailty. Vulnerability. Weakness. Aging. These aspects that are very much part of what it means to be a human, are so very much scorned and looked down upon by our Western North American Culture. Here, we live in an age of youth. strength, ability, progress, and improvement. These are riddled through the news, hammered in our advertising, and get more likes and followers than anything else in our popular social media streams. When these things begin to fade, as they always do, one’s worth and usefulness fall away and are lost in the halls of the nearest skilled nursing facility.
"What is true and what has always been true is that as one’s body begins to fade away, one’s spirit tends to expand."
But frailty is part of the human experience. It is more real than anything we see on our smartphones, streaming television, and news feeds. We live with it and we die with it. Frailty. What is true and what has always been true is that as one’s body begins to fade away, one’s spirit tends to expand. This is not to say they are separate, by any means, one’s body and spirit, but when we are strong we tend to rely on our external strength to get by and when we are not strong, we have to draw our strength from somewhere else. This is a very real possibility for each of us, an invitation, but unfortunately, one that is missed by countless men and women as they near the ends of their lives (This I have seen in sitting with hundreds of individuals as they stare down the ending of their days). Growing our internal strength, expanding our spirits, can happen with very little effort on our parts. It truly is a natural process, but it does mean that we have to let the natural process happen. What is most common is a resistance to this aging, a fear of the frailty, and too often a denial or blatant condemnation of the limits that are so naturally imposed on our natural body. What happens when we deny ourselves this acceptance is a shrinking dying body and a shrinking dying spirit. We deny ourselves the possibility of internal strength that transforms the world as others behold in awe the immensity of our spirit or presence.
What happens naturally in the world, happens naturally in each person. And what happens naturally in each person, happens in the world. Frailty is a reality. Each being is dependent on the greater network of beings. Our mother, the Earth, is perhaps the most resilient being…. but her waters and her wild places and the heavens that surround her are vulnerable and have changed immensely over her billions of years, not to mention the centuries that we humans have walked her lands. It is only we humans who have denied this vulnerability and tried to conquer it, to overcome it, to use it for our own gain. But why would we want to overcome and conquer the very thing that would lead to our transcendence? This is a good question to wonder about. Wonder about the strange thinking that our species has come to. It is easy and convenient to be grateful for the things that benefit us and bring us comfort. Much more difficult to have gratitude for the things that break us down or even bring about our demise.
We must go down before we can go up. We must die before we can live. Consider the scriptures, the wise teachers, or Life itself, our greatest teacher.
Here we are as a global community, spinning out in the lack of control, the uncertainty, the vulnerability that has been our reality all along. Something else has been with us all along, too. This is the opportunity and the invitation to grow and to acknowledge how connected we really are. Now is not the time for fear. Now is not the time for blame. Now is not the time for arrogantly claiming how strong and powerful our country is. Now is the time for coming together, for compassion. Now is the time to remember that our lives are not just about us as individuals and our immediate families. We expand, we grow, we transform for the sake of the world and all her beings, big and small. The choices we make are for all, not just for ourselves. You want to hoard resources in case there is a shortage? When you take more for yourself it means there is less for the all. (Watch and see how small and stingy people will become as they seize things for themselves, as they exert their strength and stake their claims.) This is the way of the world. But there is an overwhelming abundance of compassion, a never ending stream of that which sustains our spirits. And this grows as other things fall away. Watch and see how it happens.
Coronavirus will undoubtedly bring about stress, pain, and heartbreak for many. Health care workers will be overwhelmed and overworked (as they already are). Many elderly speed more quickly to their deaths. But in the midst of this, there is growth. There is the opportunity to honor our frailty and vulnerability and shift our values to things that will elevate us to another stage of connection. A time like this is a mere instant in the timeline of the world. And yet when the factors are right, an instant is enough time to change the trajectory of the world. We can remain awake, looking for the bigger picture, holding the paradox, and expanding our connection to all that is beyond us. This is our invitation. May it be so.
This post was originally published on Nathan's own site. Have a look here: https://natebettger.com
Nathan Bettger is a board-certified hospital chaplain and spiritual director from Oshkosh, WI, where he lives with his wife (Kat), his two sons (Brendan Arthur and Owen Raine) and his Welsh Terrier (Wendell). Nathan is committed to nurturing connection and community, through our relationships, our bodies, our sense of self, the land that we live on, and our experience of the Divine. Deeply grounded in contemplative and mystic Christianity and nature-based spirituality, Nathan seeks to consistently invite others into more unitive and loving life, whether it be through spiritual companioning, caring for those in the hospital, advocating for more natural earth keeping, caring for his honey bees and his garden, or writing. Nathan has led community groups for many years focused on spiritual integration, conversations on death and dying, grief support, and men’s spirituality. He received his Masters in Divinity from Bethel Seminary in St Paul, MN and Certificates of Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction from George Fox Seminary in Portland, OR. Nathan served on the founding board for the men’s spirituality non-profit, Illuman and is a graduate scholar of the Orphan Wisdom School, led by teacher, story teller and author, Stephen Jenkinson.