The holidays are upon us, and for many, they will be close to “normal” this year. Our family is still in quasi-isolation until all of us are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but I’m nevertheless starting to pick up that same sweet scent of community that has been contained for years now: seeing extended family, going on an airplane for a vacation and meeting new people in a new place that can show new things.
I was daydreaming about this while driving to pick up our daughter, when the radio disc jockey abruptly shared the fact that, statistically, a person is more likely to be killed by a vending machine than by a shark.
It has been a long, surreal few years for American society, when even death by vending machine doesn’t feel unlikely. Before the pandemic, tribalism and stereotyping were already increasing, people only associating with others who shared the same political beliefs, demonizing the “other,” regarding each other with suspicion and sometimes as the outright enemy. Add the pandemic, with its isolation, increased social media use with each person’s selective slice of humanity, and it sometimes feels like those trends have only intensified.
As I watch our non-isolating friends and family get ready for holiday gatherings, I’m remembering what it takes to be a community again. And that entails trying to find the common humanity in every person, from your annoying uncle who comes every Thanksgiving, to the tens of thousands of people in the city with whom you haven’t interacted in years, and indeed may never interact with on a personal level.
A good friend of mine is a pastor in Alabama, and he once gave a sermon about the parable of the good Samaritan. He made the point that we are always encouraged to emulate the Samaritan who helps the stranger. But, he asked, how much harder is it to be in the other man’s shoes, those of the wounded traveler who needs help from his “enemy?” Could we allow ourselves to accept help from one of “those people?”
On any given day, we all may be in a position to offer or to accept help. If there are lessons from this pandemic as well, the need to humbly give and receive help is one of them. “Normalcy” is on the horizon for many of us, and I hope we greet each other as human beings who have been through an ordeal together, not as one of “them” from the Facebook post or talk show segment. When you cut through the suspicion and righteousness with some humility, we’re all human. And we can all be killed by a vending machine.
Kara Sorbel lives and works in Anchorage with her family.
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