Glimmerings of light in tough times


Call it a cliche, a metaphor, or a simple image of optimism, but silver linings shine even in the cloudiest of times. So where exactly are these COVID-19 glimmerings of light?

News reports that animal shelters are almost empty, with adoptions at all-time highs. And what do people do with these best friends? They take them out for regular walks. Yes, people are out walking in record numbers and exploring landscapes that were easily missed under the “blinders” and hustle of their 50-hour work weeks.

Restaurants are closed, except for some take-out, which is unfortunate for those businesses and we hope for rapid government support and recovery. But what are people doing? They are cooking for themselves at home and eating around the dining room table, regrouping as families in marvelous numbers.

And speaking of food, it’s amazing to read about how many people are gardening! It seems to be the 21st century’s version of the Victory Garden, the family practice during World War II to ensure reliable food sourcing. My daughter and granddaughter and have not only been cooking meals together, but they’ve been exploring a cookbook full of bakery recipes, much to the expanding waistline of father and husband.

Extended families are communicating in record numbers, renewing relationships. They are “Zooming” and “Skyping” to stay connected. I suggested to my grandchildren that this might be a good time to keep a daily diary, because 20 years from now, their children are going to asking them what it was like to struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic. What did you and your family do dad, mom? Only to discover that many young people were already on to that idea.

I suspect I’m not alone in feeling the swell of pride, camaraderie and gratefulness for the courage and support of volunteers, food-bank workers, health care workers, grocery store employees, first responders and neighbors working together in these dangerous times. This coming together in a time of need speaks volumes, and is a precious reminder of how important brotherhood is to our collective humanity. I love reading about all the seamstresses who are churning out surgical-type face masks to help shore up shortages, my wife included.

That people are purposefully engaged in these pandemic times is both encouraging and energizing. Mainstream news outlets are reporting record readership and viewership. When it comes to coping with dangerous epidemics, people want facts and science from reliable sources. That’s good news, and a good habit to renew.

New York Times columnist David Brooks has written much about what he calls the era of the “Big Me,” in which he evidences the glorification of selfies, and the number of Facebook likes one gets for some trivial act. The pandemic has grounded us in important ways. We are reminded that life has a beginning and an end, and in that context, we think about what is really important in life and relationships, and what is fatuous and trivial.

None of these glimmerings erase the shadows of suffering for families who have lost loved ones, jobs, or for the homeless without shelter or health care. We see with better clarity their vulnerabilities and the need for societal remedies.

Lynne Joyrich, a writer for the L.A. Times, wrote recently about the emergent “new forms of sociality, communication, intimacy and care.” I feel a sense of revival in the notion of community as an implicit but absolute tactic in the fight against this invisible enemy, and that may be the brightest of the silver linings.

William J. Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired school principal, former foundation president, senior staff member at The Brookings Institution, and president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations. As a teacher of Chinese history, he took the first groups of American students into China after the Cultural Revolution in 1976.

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