Coronavirus Comes to Town

I’ve noticed an interesting shift in my feelings of connection with total strangers over the past few weeks.  Just two weeks ago, Coronavirus was still a foreign phenomenon for me.  I was aware of its presence in my periphery, but it had not yet touched my world.  At that point, my perspective toward strangers was defensive and critical. I started to look at people who sneezed or coughed with scorn and I often found myself holding my breath until I passed them.

Then, Coronavirus moved into my neighborhood.

Thank G-d, none of my family members have contracted Covid-19 to date.  But, it has certainly wreaked havoc on my world.  All of my children’s schools are all closed for at least 2 weeks and likely longer.  My company has recommended that NYC-based employees work from home.  And, I’ve had to start making late-night or early morning trips to the grocery store in the hopes of finding the new Holy Grail: toilet paper, hand soap, and Clorox wipes.

No doubt about it — Coronavirus had officially landed in my world.

Corona Connection

I would have expected that this new development would have made me feel more fearful of and separate from every human I encountered.  Yet, I found myself feeling much more connected to these individuals.

As this unwelcome guest grew increasingly comfortable in my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but wonder — what would it feel like walking down the street if I were an unknowing carrier?

I started to think about the impact that I could have on anyone who passed me.  Of course, it wouldn’t stop there.  The highly contagious nature of the virus meant that I could also impact everyone in that person’s world: family members, office colleagues, people who shared the bus or train with them, individuals who dined at the same restaurants, went to the same gyms, etc., etc.

In considering this possibility, I was struck by the massive exponential impact that one person’s actions could have on potentially millions of other people.  Even more jarring was the fact I could start this massive domino effect without my awareness of having done anything at all.

In that instant, I felt my mind shift and the distance between these strangers and me evaporate.  I felt a deep sense of connection with these individuals and the vast human network of which we are all part.

Could a Smile Go Viral?

We’ve all been shocked by the maps tracking the explosive spread of the Coronavirus.  But, perhaps these maps are just physical manifestations of what is always true – that every interaction we have with another human being can impact millions of others.

This is a scary notion when it comes to airborne disease.  But, couldn’t it also be true of my positive interactions with others as well?  If I smiled and said good morning to someone on the street, perhaps they would hold the door for a stranger as they entered their office building.  This second person might then show some small amount of additional care for a colleague in the office.  That colleague might come home that evening and act with a little more patience to their child.  That child might then go to school the next day and act with more kindness to their friends.  And, onward the ripples continue.

Conversely, if, instead of smiling at that first person, I let them know what a jerk they were for stopping to check their email in the middle of the cleaning supply aisle at the supermarket, I could set in motion a negative chain reaction that was just as powerful.

We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands

The Bible’s description of the creation of man is anomalous to the description of other life forms.  Trees, plants, fish, insects, animals were all created in bulk.  But, the creation of man starts with fashioning a single human.  Why would G-d do that?  Wouldn’t it be more efficient to start with a gaggle of Adams?

The Talmud explains that G-d wanted to impart a timeless message: the entire universe was created for a single human being.  And, it was one man’s responsibility to care for the whole universe.  The lesson was that every human being should view it as his/her sole responsibility to care for the entire world.  In short, “we’ve got the whole world in our hands.”

In the past, I considered this lesson as conceptual more than practical.  I understood the concept of caring about other people and the planet.  But, surely the idea that I could impact billions of other people was hyperbole?

The Coronavirus has taught us that it is no exaggeration.

Every interaction we have with another person – no matter how seemingly insignificant – has the potential to impact millions of other people.

Abundant Opportunities in a World that Feels Scarce

Even as we go into Corona-hibernation with limited in-person interactions, we can still find opportunities to kindle these chain reactions.  Send a thank-you note to someone for whom you are grateful, but have never let them know.  Tell a colleague, a child, a spouse, a parent how proud you are of them.  Call an old friend just to let them know you’re thinking of them.

We should all do our best to contain the spread of Covid-19.  But, even during this time of social distancing, we can also remind ourselves of the abundant opportunities we have to make our actions go viral.