pandemicSpring has come, yet cafés and parks are empty. At rush hour, traffic lights cycle through their colours to empty intersections. The doors of classrooms, arenas, and restaurants are locked, and only a handful of pedestrians shuffle through the streets with purpose and unease. The office buildings are as empty as the hospitals are full. There is a worldwide, long-term “snow day” but with no blizzard in sight, an all-but universal “sick day” where the healthy must stay home – and the afflicted, too, if they can. In the quarantine imposed in response to the coronavirus, we have become a sequestered society as we await the abatement of an invisible threat.

For an as-yet-untold number of Canadians, this pandemic will be a bodily reality – perhaps even a fatal one. For many more, however, these weeks of quarantine have been an unexpected pause, a sudden interruption of the familiar rhythms of life, imposing everything from boredom and inconvenience to dire financial distress. While sickness will reach some, a degree of upheaval has already affected us all. But the very hardships that the pandemic has imposed are also, in a strange way, a medicine. A distracted world of frenetic activity has suddenly screeched to a halt, and an overlooked landscape has come into view. The background of our daily lives has become the foreground, and we are all discovering what Virginia Woolf once called (with eerie accuracy) the “wastes and deserts of the soul (that) a slight attack of influenza brings to view.”

This unprecedented situation, however, does not let us test Blaise Pascal’s judgement that “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” While social distancing might stem the spread of the pandemic, there are ample means for endless distraction – and destruction – in the rooms in which we find ourselves confined. Thus do we perform frequent and thorough hand-washing to kill viruses, and “streaming services” of a different kind provide a constant flow of images and noise which, likewise, stave off the encroachment of silence. While the pandemic has put public health and our economy into one kind of “deep trouble,” it has also revealed our own trouble with reaching and remaining in the depths – of silence, of solitude, and of prayer. Headphones prevent us from listening to the rhythms of life; moving pictures stop us from seeing the faces which should move us to new reaches of empathy and love; and the phones created to connect us to each other confine us in shallow cycles of irrelevant updates. Our apparently interconnected world is really beset by isolation, diversion, and a deep addiction to slight, continuous, digital agitations.

In being unplugged from these poor imitations of connection, a new reality reveals itself: the blessings our families and the true needs of our neighbours. So too do we see the vanity, inanity, and insanity of so many of modern Canada’s policies and apparently pressing concerns. For instance, this genuine public health crisis has brought the claims of norm-destroying social saboteurs into an unflattering comparison; the rhetoric of so-called “gender identity” activists, breathlessly worrying about safety and danger, vulnerability and threat, can now be clearly seen as a sham. The coronavirus has also given us a much-needed lesson about the protection of the vulnerable and the elderly, who need to be welcomed into the centre of our culture and not abandoned to the ice floes of isolation, and offered only the cold comfort of euthanasia. Indeed, this pandemic should spur us to create what Thomas Cardinal Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto has called an authentic “culture of care.”

The threat that the coronavirus poses to the aged and infirm also points to a peril of our own creation. Since the sexual insurrection of the 1960s, birthrates in the developed world have declined; most first-world countries are now well below the demographic “replacement rate” at which a population remains stable. For decades, we murderously disposed of the unborn in the womb, treating our incubating offspring as the unwelcome detritus of transient pleasures. Having sown the wind, we now reap the whirlwind: our dalliance with the culture of death has created a different kind of “deep trouble.” Ours is a crisis exacerbated by our empty cradles.

An ancient proverb identifies the two best times to plant a tree: twenty years ago – and now. When we eventually emerge from our confinement and quarantine and assess the damage to our population and our livelihoods, the din of our daily lives will return. The times which now seem like such a burden will, in retrospect, appear like an oasis of halcyon days. But, as our habitual rhythms again find their familiar grooves, and pundits begin to opine about solutions and preventions, we must not forget the real lesson of these previous days. The ultimate remedies and safeguards to similar threats are things which no politician will have the insight or the courage to prescribe, but which we all know well enough: we should welcome more children into the world, and cherish all of our generations with generosity and love. We must let the deep lessons, learned in this desert, blossom in the seasons when health and habit return lest we be even less able to weather the other storms which must, without fail, come.