Yesterday, the United States was invaded by the worst kind of enemy possible: the Ebola virus. The mere mention of this deadly disease brings me to a point of horror far beyond that experienced by the events of 9/11.
Up until now, Ebola has been to me what so many other worldly tragedies have been: something unfortunate that was happening somewhere else in the world. To someone else. A nameless people. A horror sad, but unreal to me. And though moved by compassion for those suffering, little else occurred inside of me. I’d “awww” and lift up a nimble prayer, but my heart wasn’t truly pricked. I would sympathize without empathizing.
I find that part of myself rather disgusting. The part that can look at genocide, slavery, poverty, disease, lack, and prejudice and slyly dismiss it if it isn’t happening in my own living room. The part that hears that somewhere in Rwanda something bad was happening and said, “Oh, that’s too bad” while 800,000 people were being mercilessly hacked with machetes. The part that hears that 30 million people are being used as workforce and sexual slaves throughout the world and says, “that’s awful!” but easily forgets about it as I freely move throughout the country. The part that knows beyond knowing that there are people in Africa, Asia, South America who won’t eat for DAYS due to lack of food or lack of money, but I still throw out the ALMOST expired milk, should it expire before the date on the label arrives.
My heart aches for the trials and tribulations around the world. Inside, I cry for the little girls who don’t stand a chance at a free life, and I curse those who stop it from happening. I hate looking at the plenty in my house (ask my husband…I drive him nuts with this), seeing every single item as something that someone else cannot afford. And I am terrified by the areas that suffer war day in and day out, not imagining how they can DARE to survive each day.
Yet, my reaction to their plight only goes so far. I am easily distracted by the to-do’s of my daily life; by noses that need to be wiped, by fights that need to be broken, by carpools that need to be run, by groceries that need to be purchased. Whether by purposeful or accidental distraction, my mind doesn’t linger long on the wounds of others.
There have been those moments when my heartstrings were pulled hard enough to make me stop in my tracks. Reading “Left to Tell” by Immaculee Ilibagiza rocked my world and made me want to board the next plane to Rwanda. In the book, Immaculee describes the horror she lived through as her family, friends, village, and country were massacred by people they had known as neighbors, friends, and co-workers. She tells of hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women for 90 days; silent. Afraid for their lives. Not merely “afraid for their lives”, like we tend to think we are, but genuinely, truly, LITERALLY afraid for their lives. Afraid that any motion they made, any sound they uttered could lead to their complete and utter destruction. Permanently.
I have a small hole in my heart for the country of Rwanda and the people who live and lived there.
Why isn’t it a huge, gaping hole?
Then tragedy hit stateside: Hurricane Katrina. All of a sudden, destruction comes to life as I watch the town in which I lived flooded by the hand of God and the negligence of man. The horrors of faraway countries comes knocking on my door. Homes gone, lives gone, dreams broken. A city destroyed.
The hole in my heart grows much deeper; much larger. And all because the tragedy that others were experiencing everyday hit me in the face.
And now Ebola; up until now, a horrible, life-taking disease isolated to a remote and foreign land. “Aww, those poor people.” Small hole.
But the news of a living, breathing death working its way into our country, into our lives has ripped a hole in my heart far larger than Hurricane Katrina ever did. Katrina was isolated: the Gulf Coast. Yes, we lost our home, our neighborhood, our city. But Hubby and I were fortunate enough to have insurance. To have accessible funds. To have family and friends to care for us. To be a part of a giving, loving, receiving, generous church family.
We were ok. After realizing we had lost every material good we owned, we sat in the car with each other, our son, our dog, a little food, and a few sets of clothes and realized we had everything we needed.
Yes, Katrina was isolated, and carried with it a whirlwind of blessing on the other side.
Ebola carries neither.
It is not isolated, nor does it bring blessing. It brings death. And a death, I readily admit, of which I am very, very afraid.
You see, I am terrified (yes, I mean T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D; phobic) of viral disease. Being a control freak, viruses fall WAY outside of the “able to control” zone. You can’t see where they are; therefore, you cannot avoid them. You don’t know where they have been, where they will be, who they will get, WHEN they will get, or what the effect will be. Sadly, all of the aforementioned factors overrun my thoughts and views of ANY virus, let alone one that will kill. Up until now, my irrational fear has been focused on stupid, idiotic bugs that come and go swiftly; tummy bugs in particular. I’m so afraid of them that I’ve seen five therapists to try to get me through it. I’ve done exposure therapy (yes, exposure…imagine that), psychodrama, EMDR, trauma therapy. You name it; I’ve done it. I’ve avoided flights, classrooms, parties, public bathrooms, doctor’s offices, and even hotel rooms to keep from getting a bug. And all for something that will be OVER in 24 hours.
And then God brought Ebola.
Not over in 24 hours.
A monster with talons big and deep enough to take those I love, or myself, away from this earth. My therapist asked me to think about this: “what’s the worst that could happen and can I handle it using my skills?”. When I think of the “worst that could happen”, I look at my kitchen table and see empty chairs where my beating heart used to sit breathing. I can visually see empty pockets in our family portrait like the spaces left by a tooth fairy’s reward. Even as I write, I feel a cave forming inside my chest as all my insides dribble down to my toes.
The Bible tells us repeatedly to “not be afraid; what can man do to me?”.
I’ve rarely been afraid of man. Of ridicule, yes, but of harm; no. I’ve lived in the inner city many times, been robbed a few times here and there, found my house wide open, had our identity stolen twice. But each time, I see man as man; same as I. I’m not afraid of that.
Ebola has been allowed on this earth by God; not by man. Now, I’m afraid. Katrina came by the hand of God; again, afraid.
Which leads me to a strange, dichotomous place: how can I be afraid of the Almighty God and yet trust Him so very completely? To know that nothing can or will happen outside of His “ok”? How can I, in my heart of hearts, believe His will to be the best for me when it sometimes feels like the very worst thing possible?
I’ll be honest. I have no idea.
But trust Him, I do. And afraid as I may be, I choose to have my “mind set on what the Spirit desires” so that I may attain “life and peace” (Rom 8:5). The only alternative is to have my mind set on “what the flesh desires”. Doing so, and I speak from experience, “leads to death” (Rom 8:5-6). The death of an active, vital life. The death of being present. The death of joy, and the death of peace.
My flesh always desires the easy, comfortable way out. The one that will impact me the least. The things that have impacted me the most were certainly not easy, but they were necessary.
God knows what He is doing. Somehow or another, I believe that. And I also believe that He really does have a reason for it all. I don’t always agree with His reasoning, but then again, I’m not Him.
All I can do is pray. Pray for our country, our citizens, my family.
And maybe, just maybe, this will help me realize that when things happen “in a faraway land”, it is just as awful as if it happened in my own home.