The panic that has surrounded the recent arrival of Ebola at a Dallas hospital has been extreme. I do understand the fear of a disease with a mortality rate over 50% and no present cure. But I wonder at the hysteria of the moment, hyped by our twenty-four/seven infotainment industry. People have been dying of Ebola in Africa for a long time. A brief history of the disease on the Stanford website says it first emerged in 1976. The son that was born that year is now one of four doctors in the family. He is a physician in San Antonio, as is his older brother, an infectious disease specialist, and that brother’s wife. I am not worried about my safety, in spite of the front-page headline this morning in our small town paper that says a family living here traveled home by plane with the second Dallas nurse recently diagnosed with Ebola. I do worry about the safety of my sons and daughter-in-law when an Ebola patient arrives at the hospital in San Antonio. I am a mother after all, and I know that many of the deaths in Africa have been of health care workers, who none-the-less continue to care for patients there, in spite of the risk.
I wonder if our present focus on Ebola is a way to avoid thinking about the other more immediate threats our world faces at the moment. Some days it feels as if the world is falling apart around us. That nothing works like it should anymore. That we are in constant danger of catastrophe. So we focus on this one threat, which is real, but unlikely to harm most of the people in this country who are the most panicked. It’s not easy to catch this disease unless you are in close contact with a person who has active symptoms. It’s not like catching the flu. But we focus on Ebola instead of on the problems we can do something about, like the flu, which hundreds will die from this year, while too many of us never get a flu shot.
Perhaps focusing on Ebola is a way of feeling in control. If we can just solve this one problem, maybe the world will feel safer. If we can vanquish this deadly disease, maybe even death itself can be conquered. Yet we are not in control. We will die and so will those we love. That is our reality, in spite of our culture’s irrational denial of death. While we can care for ourselves, and those we love, we cannot banish this ultimate reality. Death reminds us that we are not in charge. God is. And I am thankful for that knowledge. What ultimately matters is how we deal with this reality, and what we do with the life we have been given. I think that Jesus provided the best answer. In the time we have here in this life, what we can do is love God and love others as much as we love ourselves. If we had spent more time and money caring for distant brothers and sisters dying in Africa from a disease we thought would never touch us, we might not be panicking about Ebola here and now.
Grace and Peace,