A Jar of Bleach

            Out there rolls a tsunami of uncertainty, flecked with fear and isolation, thick with detritus of financial and human calamity. We grieve the world that was a few short weeks ago.

            There are racists spitting on the almond-eyed out of their fear of the “Chinese virus.” The Western World weirdly continues to hoard toilet paper, and adopt all the dogs and chickens. There is neither flour nor yeast in the stores because we are all enrolled in Caroline Ingalls’ School of Homesteading and Isolation, and it’s the bread unit. Don’t worry. It won’t last forever. The “sewing from scraps” unit starts tomorrow.

            The privileged among us are stuck at home with the people we made and maybe one that we chose.  We don’t know when it will end.  Others are alone, or with people they’d rather not be. Millions of us have seen our incomes completely dry up. Livelihoods are ruined because of an act of Nature and the response of governments, and there is no relief yet.

            The world is always full of suffering, injustice, and the very worst luck. The difference is scope. This pandemic sheds a great light on humanity. Our interconnectedness is undeniable. Your health impacts mine. Your security impacts mine. Inequalities become glaring. Even we, in the privileged West and in a country buffered by two oceans and the nicest northern neighbor ever, are neither immune nor spared.

            Look too wide at this pandemic and you will despair. You will be overcome by the tragedy and suffering of it all. New York will make you weep. India will crumple you. But…

             I have a jar of bleach. This jar of bleach is a talisman for all that is not baleful and disappointing about humans. My neighbor left it by my back gate, because I have not been able to find bleach anywhere. It makes me feel better every time I look at it, and not because of the contents. It is the recycled honey jar, my name, and that tiny heart.

            People are checking up on people they don’t know, sharing supplies. Neighbors are shopping for each other, to minimize trips. My parents’ neighbor drove by, introduced himself, gave them his phone number and told them to reach out if they needed anything. A chef and baker played the part of Bread Fairy around the block, leaving jars of sourdough starters and instructions on how to care for it, for anyone who asked.

            People are offering help of every kind, at a time when every interaction is a risk, choosing to be a help and a balm to someone else. People are picking up medications for elders, singing songs to each other, sharing books, leaving hand sanitizer for mail carriers, getting groceries and mowing lawns for hospital workers, saying thank you to garbage men, giving away homemade masks to anyone who needs one, and realizing how many of the essential jobs are not the ones we thought they were.

            I hope this reshapes us for a generation or two. I hope we take the lessons of interconnectedness and what we owe each other to heart. I hope we continue to see a need and DO what we can, not just complain. When things gain a sense of normalcy, I hope our humility to ask for help and our willingness to offer it freely will stay. I am better being more selfless and I am made better by seeing others be the same. We are better this way.

            If you look too far out, you’ll see only the darkness, and you’ll miss all the small lights around you, and your own gifts- given and received. Worse, you’ll miss your opportunity to be a light in that darkness.