It seemed like a good idea at the time.
It was mid-March. The descriptive word "pandemic" was just starting to be used. We had no idea exactly what we were dealing with or what was coming next. (In some ways, we still don't know, of course.) But in mid-March, most of us were fairly light-hearted and naive about what was to come.
I saw an article on Facebook at the time that suggested six books to be read during a pandemic.
As I said, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Now, as we approach 56,000 deaths in the United States and three million cases worldwide, I'm not sure that reading pandemic literature was a very good idea. What seemed fascinating back in mid-March seems simply miserable now.
But in mid-March, I was fascinated. At that time, I wasn't even aware that there was a genre of literature anchored to pandemics! But I've learned a great deal since then.
I wasn't familiar with Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, for example. I knew, of course, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, but I didn't know that he wrote a fictional story that chronicled the bubonic plague that decimated Europe in the 1600s. Evidently, it's a classic.
And then there was Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, the first black woman to come to international prominence as a science fiction writer. That was the recommended pandemic book I read first. Written in 1993, this dystopian novel is set - get this! - in the 2020s! Here's the descriptive blurb on the back of the book:
When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others' emotions.
It is Lauren's hyperempathy that drives the story. She is called a "sharer," because the pain of other people becomes her own pain. When other people suffer, she suffers. Lauren feels the pain of others as if it were her own. And Lauren's gift is both blessing and curse.
Most of us don't know the word "hyperempathy." But we do know the word "compassion." Sometimes - and certainly today - compassion is about the best gift we have to offer: our willingness to "suffer with."
In Colossians 3:12, we learn that we are chosen people. We also learn that we are holy people. What's more, we are dearly loved by God. And because those things are true, we are instructed to clothe ourselves with compassion (and along with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.)
Quite simply, our world today is filled with people who are desperate for compassion.
And compassion is something we are well equipped to give.
If we live well these days, our empathy will be over the top. What a gift we can give when we suffer with someone else.