Things That Spread
In the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States, my friend Christi was taking her daily walk on a beach near her home in Long Beach, California. As she strolled along her familiar route, it occurred to her that she had not crossed paths in several days with an elderly woman she frequently passed on her walks. Christi voiced her concern to another woman she often encountered on the beach. Several days later, Christi found out that the elderly woman was, in fact, well, and had been checked on by several people as a result of Christi’s inquiry. The concern of one individual had morphed and multiplied into a series of visits that brought this woman cheer, along with the assurance that she was not alone.
Spreading is of the most fearsome characteristics associated with cancer and Covid-19. When cancer cells multiply uncontrollably, the multiplied cells form tumors that can spread throughout the body, destroying healthy tissue. And, as we all know, Covid-19 started with a single case halfway around the world and quickly spread to every continent except Antarctica. When such unwanted forces multiply so rampantly and destructively, it’s easy to feel powerless and alone.
My friend Christi’s beach anecdote was a reminder, though, that menacing, destructive illnesses are not the only forces that can spread quickly and powerfully. Goodness can spread, too, in many beautiful ways. If we are looking for God in the challenges of cancer and Covid-19, it can be comforting to note that the Bible identifies God as a source of abundance and the spread of good things. For example, all four gospels contain accounts of Jesus feeding crowds with what starts out as a very small supply of food. Three gospels contain His parable of the mustard seed, depicting the kingdom of God as blossoming from the tiniest, most humble beginnings into a deeply rooted, expansive, welcoming space. And, in John 10:10, Jesus identifies Himself as a source of overflowing goodness, saying, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Still, it can be easy to wonder where that God of abundance is when your strawlike hair is coming out in clumps from chemotherapy. Obviously hair loss is a minuscule problem compared to loss of life. Even so, it’s not fun, and it does make it easy to think of loss and depletion as having the upper hand. Yes, hair loss is a tradeoff for the benefit of anti-cancer medicine, but that benefit can be forgotten when you’re looking in the mirror or shivering from the drafts you never felt when you had hair.
However, I believe that God and love, not loss and depletion, had the upper hand. For starters, the day before I had arranged with my hair stylist to shave off my remaining hair, my husband, Karl, stunned me by appearing in our bedroom with a shaved head, as a gesture of solidarity. The next day, my daughter Ellen gave me a beautiful hug as I tearfully left for the hair salon. At the salon, the hair stylist, Karen, radiated compassion and warmth, and wouldn’t take any money for her time and work. Where was God? Spreading love through Karl, Ellen, and Karen, as well as through others who shared their compassion, wisdom, and generosity during my hair loss milestone.
I lost my hair in October, just as the weather was getting cold. Mercifully, even before a hair fell out, the Hat Brigade went to work. The members of the Brigade didn’t all know each other, but consisted of individuals who showered me with hats of all colors, designs, and textures, each one a heart- and head-warming reminder of the love of friends, strangers…and God. A number of the hats came from members of a group that meets at Luther Memorial Church called Stitches of Love. Founded in 1999 by Betty Hoke, it has proliferated the vision of one woman into a group that has provided more than 27,000 hats, scarves, sweaters, and other knitted items to children locally and around the world. The knitters multiply goodness to fill a need for warmth and to show that someone cares.
The Covid-19 pandemic, too, has spurred and multiplied goodness through countless kindnesses of friends, family, and strangers toward one another. Every day health care workers, supermarket employees, food pantry workers, trash collectors, and many others put their lives on the line to serve complete strangers. Many shoppers pick up extra groceries for people who are at high risk. Stories abound of people who have found creative ways to share love and light in the midst of this pandemic. A random Google Chrome search of “coronavirus, kindness” on April 7 yielded 130 million results!Cancer and Covid-19 are real and anguishing. That is part of the truth. I find it inspiring, and hope-inducing, though, to look at the equally real truth of the love that these diseases unveil. The Bible teaches that this love is the essence of God. Spreading love is the great commandment Jesus gave to His disciples twice at their last meal together: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) and “My commandment is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) The contrast between God and disease is eloquently summed up by author Mary Pezzulo:
“The Holy Ghost is something like the opposite of a virus. A virus invades, but the Holy Ghost is already everywhere present and filling all things in the first place…A virus causes chaos, but the Holy Ghost brings harmony. A virus causes a pandemic, and the Holy Ghost causes a chain reaction of charity and love wherever we allow.”
As a symbol of hope, I leave you with a picture of a bird’s nest that my cousin Debbie found outside her window recently. In the midst of Covid-19, birds are still laying eggs, spreading life. You have to look carefully to see the eggs in the picture, but they are definitely there. “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
Mary Carol, a member of Luther Memorial Church, felt a call to use her gift of writing to offer hope and encouragement to others who may find themselves in times of special need. In addition to teaching Humanities at York College of Pennsylvania, she, along with her husband, is raising two children.