Privileged—Even in a Pandemic
by Mark A. Taylor
I was at Kroger just past 7:00 a.m. Monday, the morning after Ohio Governor DeWine announced mandatory shelter-in-place to begin that midnight. Grocery stores will continue to be open no matter what, but we in the line outside the door weren’t willing to wait for later.
“Go early when it’s less crowded,” I had read in one of a dozen how-to-cope-with-Coronavirus web posts.
“Kroger is open 7:00-8:00 a.m. just for those older than 60,” news outlets were reporting.
Yeah, right. Every aisle was packed (well, almost every; not many were buying makeup or Easter decorations). And I thought about asking for the ID of a few who looked remarkably young for their supposed age. Some guy in the next checkout had to choose three paper items (Kroger’s limit) from the stack of toilet paper and paper towels he had put on the belt. I pity the poor clerks charged with enforcing the rule.
I didn’t hoard, but I must admit I bought more than one item “in case we need it.” I hope not to be back there for at least another week.
But after I was home and had stocked our pantry and refrigerator, I realized how grateful I am. By contrast with a week or so ago, many of Kroger’s shelves were sort-of-stocked. (My one regret: a hastily snagged box of spaghetti that didn’t seem to be such a find when I realized in the checkout lane it was whole wheat. Ask me later if we liked it. Ask me later if we ate it!) Workers were everywhere stacking cases and feverishly opening them to get cheese and soup and taco seasoning onto the shelves. My checkout clerk had arrived for duty at 6:00 a.m.
How privileged we are to be served by such people and by a food distribution system that, even though shocked, still succeeds to fill my grocery cart. It’s easy to act as if it’s my right to expect it all to be there, meeting my needs. It’s easy to take for granted my dependable SUV that gets me to the store and my scant worry about how much I spent (not even close, though, to the $350+ racked up by the woman six feet ahead of me).
It’s easy to forget many—so many—who don’t have my privilege. But as the number of unemployment claims skyrockets and scores of children miss thousands of subsidized meals because they’re not at school, we who are not with them can pause to thank God for our good fortune.
Many of us have done that. Not only have we thanked God for our tables full of food, we have shared some with others. In two weekends, people connected with our church donated enough food to make some 10,000 meals for children in our community. Our church’s website pictured tables in our lobby stacked with juice boxes, applesauce cups, granola bars, microwavable macaroni and spaghetti cups, cereal, peanut butter, and home health items. We are a generous people, Americans in general and Christians in particular. Hopefully our generosity is an acknowledgement that the plenty that surrounds us is a gift God means for us to share.
I read somewhere that the Bible contains more than 2,000 verses about the poor—God’s concern for the poor, his plan for his people to share with the poor, his promise of blessings to those who bless the poor. A simple Google search led me to a site listing some of those Scripture verses. As I stand in front of my pantry debating which of the options from my stash would be nice for dinner tonight, I’m sure I won’t recite any of those verses. As my wife and I busy ourselves with the daily tasks of planning, preparing, and cleaning up after another satisfying meal, it’s easy for us to forget about those who eat for survival, not pleasure.
Clinging to Hope
And while we wait for our health system and medical researchers to find ways to better cope with Coronavirus, most of us are not thinking about the unseen destitute millions living in uncounted rows of lean-to shacks with tin roofs and dirt floors filling slums throughout the Two-Thirds World. When the pandemic pounds them as it has the developed nations, they will have little means to cope. Wash your hands for 20 seconds? Maintain social distance? Disinfect all hard surfaces? Even if we could translate those words into Swahili or Spanish or Hindi or one of a hundred tribal dialects, they would mean nothing to the desperately poor populations who struggle to subsist in so many places.
Does this mean we should feel guilty? No, feeling guilty doesn’t accomplish anything. But, for starters, we can at least feel grateful. And, acknowledging our abundance—even in the midst of the frightening and unprecedented danger before us—we can seek ways to share the resources that give us hope.
Mark A. Taylor retired in 2016 after serving as an editor and publisher at Standard Publishing for more than 40 years. He and his wife, Evelyn, have been members at Christ’s Church since 1983.