Of all the lessons I have encountered during the pandemic, perhaps none is as striking as the value of inter-dependence. The emperor of independence has been exposed as vulnerably naked and myths that seemed to under gird the value of independence have proven false. I can see clearly that we are different people when we are isolated from one another and we are all connected in ways we might not have observed nor valued in the past.
Early on it became apparent that one by one, the virus spread from contact to contact. Our health depended on the identification ability, isolation protocols and forthright sharing of information, not only by those in our area, but individuals and leaders around the world. The web of connection had tethers on every airplane and cruise ship and bus and subway in the world. Not only is “no man an island”, even physical islands are connected to the whole of the planet.
Much of our western philosophy of “rugged individualism” and “fierce independence” is based on “ableism” or the valuing of physical, intellectual and emotional abilities and the superiority of people with these attributes expressing without limitations. We have devalued the concept of inter-dependence and denied the reality that even the most “able” of us depend upon one another. One of the great fears of aging is a decline in abilities that forces us to rely upon others. We resent the change because we have long devalued interdependence.
The pandemic leveled the field in a way we would not enter voluntarily, as disabled and abled alike found themselves working from home, getting shopping and food delivered, and restricted in our mobility. Everyone was reminded how much we depend on the “essential workers” whose work is to care for us when we’re sick, drive trucks to move groceries and goods around the country, provide utilities, stock the store shelves and make sure we have food to eat. People whose work is cleaning suddenly were valuable. We have had to ask for help or at least acknowledge the help we receive from others. We have shared resources in shortages. We have stretched ourselves to find ways to connect with one another, waving from balconies, putting up signs to be viewed through windows and taking video technology to new personal levels. In its absence, we have been reminded of the joy of community.
I sincerely hope that interdependence and the joy of community are values we can carry forward, beyond the pandemic. I am not naïve and acknowledge the ways ableism flourished in the pandemic and sought to further marginalize those with underlying medical issues and those in poverty. While the gaps widen between those who have financial and economic power and those who do not, I hope we can all remember the webs of connection revealed during the pandemic. When we accept every single link of consumer and producer connects us to each other, no one is superior to or left out of the wholeness of our precious blue marble, spinning in space. As it becomes safe to return to gatherings and hugs, may we celebrate the joy of community shared in smiles coming out from behind masks to be shared with those in stores and restaurants. May we express our gratitude to those who work in the farmlands and on the docks, as well as those who tend us in hospitals and residences. May we greet one another from a sense of dignity and respect no matter what language we speak, clothes we wear, where we live, and education level we acquire. May our value be inherent in our beingness, without measure of productivity or abilities.
Someone asked me why interdependence is not talked about more in the disability community. My response was related to my perception that typically “ableism” minimizes the contributions people with disabilities make. Inter-dependence assumes that everyone in the community contributes something; there is value in receiving as well as giving and there is an ebb and flow that benefits everyone. Ableism looks at a request for help or a need for assistance as a weakness and a failing and does not value nor acknowledge interdependence. Ableism values “power over” others above “power with” others. Ableism also ignores the fact that the entire consumerism of power depends on the work and contributions of others.
Radical Wholeness stands for the idea that “physically able” is not the same as “spiritually connected”. The most able among us may see themselves as separate from the enlivening divinity in each of us. I am not criticizing them yet my spirituality calls me to see myself in the perpetual dance of humanity and divinity. To feel separate from the divine impacts many areas of our lives and to feel connected is not a guarantee that our humanity appears like the humanity of others.
One of the last demonstrations outlined in the gospels was Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Afterward, Jesus didn’t say, “I did this so that you know who is in charge!” or “I did this for you and now you owe me!” Rather he said, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” John 13:14-16 NRSV. I read this as an admonition for interdependence. It is an invitation to continually acknowledge our oneness in Spirit; the inherent wholeness in each of us; and the joy in a community caring for one another.
Post script: as I prepare to post this, I ache for the people of Ukraine seeking to live in peace and I ache for the people of Russia longing for the same peace. We are connected without regard for distance and I pray for a peace whose outworking is not apparent in this moment but possible through Spirit nonetheless.