In the novel, Dr. Rieux resolves not to be silent and just let death happen, but to bear witness to the suffering of the people in a time of pestilence. He sees that plague, or pandemic must be fought, and paradoxically, the fight itself can call forth a greater humanity. The doctor-narrator in The Plague concludes: “The tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints, but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.”
How can we become healers? The answer is also a paradox. Distance is how we all can become heroes. We will do our best to support the medical heroes, the government leaders, and humanitarian works in many directions. The fact is, however, most of us must fight by staying home, isolating, respecting distance, and wearing mask and glove protection.
Distance can bring us closer in mind and heart and spirit. A pandemic brings us closer to awareness of the death of our loved ones and our own. Isolation brings us to the surrounding power of nature. The COVID-19 virus can settle life’s scores and teach us peace. Sheltering can take us back in time to our most-precious memories. Distance can become a resolution for what cannot be made right.
As Dr. Rieux believed and lived out, the coronavirus also can be the power to unite the human race to face the paradox of life and death by striving our utmost to be healers.
Mary James Dean holds a Doctorate of Ministry, and is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Carrollton.