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A Tale of Two Viruses – Coronavirus and HIV

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Have you ever had the experience of being awed by a new environment? Perhaps it was the first time you walked into a large cathedral, or professional stadium, or forest of monstrous redwood trees; your eyes widened and you took it all in as if your lungs could only fill with oxygen through your pupils. I hope everyone has the chance to walk through the mundane wardrobe and stumble into Narnia – with all of its newness and unexplored mystery sparking your senses to the point that every sound, sight, texture and taste carries an acute intoxicating quality like nothing you’ve experienced.  

As a performer, my life has had an abundance of experiences like this. For many seasons, my days were bloated with newness. New cities, new people, new cultures, new landscapes, new colors and flavors. As I traveled from place to place, I grew quite mindful of how the experiences began, played out, and dissolved. At first the euphoria was long-lived. There was time to mingle and contemplate the senses and gulp in every single new sight, sound and smell. I could appreciate the experience in the moment. 

Over time, the wonder and awe became more fleeting. One of the greatest challenges in life is found when we attempt to nurture and build the muscles that allow us to wonder and to be surprised to the point of awe. At some point we all find ourselves remarking that we have seen it all. That state can be called cynicism or boredom. It remains to be seen whether this cynicism is just as destructive as fear. It remains to be seen if cynicism is merely a way for us to protect ourselves from what we have become afraid to experience.

Today we find ourselves in a unique space. Over the last few weeks and months, we have wandered into a “new” environment. It is not new to everyone. And I hope we can explore this newish place together because I think we can both learn something and grow something in the midst of this new experience together. 

Last week, I had lunch with a friend at a restaurant in Nashville. The restaurant was more sparsely populated than it normally would be for a Friday lunchtime crowd. The people who did show up greeted each other with a newly found awkwardness akin to two pre-teens dancing for the first time at a school dance. Do we shake hands, fist bump, foot tap, hug? Is it even responsible for us to be meeting in a public place? Are we at risk? Are you putting me at risk?  

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Everyone is hiding. Everyone is anxious. Everyone is suspicious and suspect at the same time. Everyone is trying to keep it together. Everyone is afraid. There isn’t enough information. There isn’t the right information. There isn’t enough true information. The path forward is nearly obscured completely by feuding interests, politics, religion, and money. What we think we know is that people are dying. What we think we know is that it is a big deal. What we think we know is that it isn’t a big deal at all. What we think we know is that our normal routines are less safe than they were yesterday. We are not safe. Inarguably, our work, our cadence of life has been disrupted. We know that our kids should be in school and they are not. Even though we have lived enough years to read a long article like this, we learn we have been washing our hands wrong and we feel a little like we are five years old again. Stranger danger. People are not safe. Crowds are not safe. Coworkers are not safe. Friends we would normally hug and embrace are not safe. What people carry and spread may kill us.  

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What happens when we begin to fear the people in our community? What comes next when our unease over a handshake evolves into social distancing?  What happens when people are no longer people – rather, they are carriers. What happens when our trust in human interaction erodes because it is simply too dangerous? How will families deal with a family member who tests positive for the virus? How will an employer respond to a worker who falls sick? What are the implications for a child who has a parent or sibling who is alleged to have been sick or who may become sick? 

Will the fear born out of too much information and not enough information set in so deeply that we begin to discriminate between those we believe to be sick or most vulnerable to sickness?  

Can you feel the pride-demolishing sensation when you consider the experience of having to trace your social interactions back for weeks, and then follow up with everyone you saw as you confess that it may have been you who brought the virus to their own families and loved ones? Can you imagine the inner battle every time you have to make the decision to confess your “sin”? How many times would pride and self-protection win and in your silence, let others be blindsided by illness and possibly death? How would you tell your boss, your children? Are you feeling the anxiety of it all? I am.  

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How does this connect to Blood:Water? Our brothers and sisters in Africa have lost jobs, families, opportunities to be educated, and worth in their communities because of a virus. Every day we are in the work of supporting African organizations that fight the ensuing soul-crushing, life-diminishing stigma. We don’t often get the opportunity to experientially share in the suffering of others in this way. Pay attention. You just stepped out of the wardrobe. You are experiencing a little of what it is like to confront the growing fears that turn into dehumanizing discrimination and callous diminishing of human value. But we aren’t yet losing the ability to be seen as human beings with indescribable worth. 

Be grateful. Be mindful. Remember how potent this experience is. Consider the damage it could cause. And help us fight this same kind of stigma in sub-Saharan Africa, just as we would all want to help fight it in our own neighborhoods. This is our privilege. 

May you be well. May you be healthy. 

Gratefully,

Dan Haseltine

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