While Inside, Look Inside
After Fr. Ed announced that students were to sit in front of their cameras dressed in their uniform hoodie, I anticipated the wave of students that would “suck their teeth.” “Mr. Adubato, do we really have to wear our uniforms for your class?” asked one determined student. As much as it may be more comfortable to attend one’s virtual classes in pajamas, the uniform is a reminder that even in isolation, we are still united through our belonging to the St. Benedict’s community. Our community is a beacon of certainty and constancy in the midst of such uncertainty times.
“Crises force us to return to questions about our identity and our need for meaning,” writes the philosopher Hannah Arendt. Times of crisis show us how fragile we really are. Our plans, talents, and good intentions can easily collapse within a matter of days. We are faced in these times with our need for something greater, more powerful than ourselves upon which to rest our certainty. The depth of this need and the lack of a clear answer can lead many to be overcome with fear.
The author James Baldwin writes that Americans are prone to seeking out two main escape hatches from this fear: sentimentality (doing what makes you feel good) and ideology (being attached to your ideals to the point of ignoring lived experience). I see Baldwin’s claim manifesting itself in some Americans who are piling up mountains of toilet paper into shopping carts out of some vain sense of self-preservation. I see it in countless people who are spouting out political manifestos on their social media pages, thinking that their opinion is somehow going to contribute to the welfare of others.
Baldwin detested such vapid responses, and instead claimed that to overcome this fear, we need to look for “a miracle of love, love strong enough to guide or drive one…into the apprehension and acceptance of one’s own identity.”
Where can one find this kind of love? Well, now that we have the extra down time, we can choose to step back and give space to these kinds of existential questions. We can make like monks and reflect on who we are and what life is really about.
Or we can choose to close in on ourselves, drowning out the questions, and cling to the distraction of our choice. For some it may be touting the latest political slogan, for others it may be stocking up on material goods to last the next three years. For others still, it might be endlessly scrolling through one’s Instagram feed or binge-watching Netflix series.
The choice may be ours, but the consequences will impact us all. Pope Francis reminds us that “we are all connected,” and the self-centeredness and absent-mindedness of those who are more privileged have repercussions on those who live “on the periphery.” It’s crises like these in which we will inevitably end up on one side or the other: either contributing to what Francis calls the “Throwaway Culture,” or being part of a “Revolution of Tenderness.”
During my last “in-person” classes on Friday, we talked about the two kinds of peripheries that we ought to make ourselves conscious of. The first is “pragmatic”—having to do with what is measurable. Some people don’t have access to quality health care, or to adequate material and financial resources. Think about people who are paid by the hour, undocumented workers, and the homeless we meet on the Jesus Runs. Should we choose to hoard goods and resources for ourselves for the sake of self-preservation, who will stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable?
Then there’s the “existential” periphery: those who lack a sense of community and belonging, of hope and faith. Our community is very much privileged in this regard. We know, whether it’s because of the uniform we wear, or the fact that we can pray and sing together during virtual Convo, that we are walking this journey of life together toward a Presence who promised to remain with us, “even to the end of the world” (Matt 28:20). What about those who don’t have this kind of hope?
During this crisis, think about how you are using your time. Are you using it to distract yourself from life, and thereby from the needs of others? Or are you using it as a time to reflect and be attentive to the needs of others as well as your own? You can either draw in on yourself, or seek out ways to be of support, whether it’s in your local community, our school, or in your own home. The choice is yours.
Mr. Adubato teaches religion at St. Benedict’s and is the faculty moderator for the Gray Bee Ministry.
“Going Viral” is a blog tracking the highs and lows of life in the St. Benedict’s community as its members weather the effects of a worldwide coronavirus outbreak.