Forty Days

By Jean Blish Siers *

Empty Toilet Paper RollQuarantine comes from the Italian “quaranta giorni” (or forty days), the length of time ships (and their crews) had to remain in the Venetian harbor before they were deemed safe from the plague and allowed to enter the port. Forty days.

We’re smack in the middle of Lent right now, which in the Christian calendar is the solemn time of reflection and repentance leading to Easter and new life. Forty days.

If there’s one thing most Americans aren’t great at, it’s reflection and repentance. We’re a culture of busy people, social people, people who want to get things done and move on to the next. The Novel Coronavirus has forced us (or at least those of us paying attention) to slow down. To question our usual choices. To think about what matters when each day feels more apocalyptic than the one before.

My son called the other day. He’d been to the grocery store to get Pepcid AC for his poor dog who had — once again — eaten something he shouldn’t. He thought he’d grab a couple things he and his wife were low on while he was there. In the pasta aisle, he put one box of fettuccine in his cart. The couple behind him cleared the shelf. They took every box of fettuccine in the store!

We’ve all heard the stories over the past couple weeks, whether it’s Clorox wipes or toilet paper or bread. Most of it I can grasp: that desire to have plenty when everything feels frighteningly unknown. But the toilet paper baffles me. A recent article in Time Magazine explained that toilet paper is primal. It’s something none of us can remember not having. Plus, we have a basic societal call to feel clean. It helps us feel healthy, like we’re doing well.

The article also noted, “When it comes to stocking up, different basics offer differing options. ‘If people did not find the food that they wanted, they could buy other food,’ says (psychologist Baruch) Fischhoff. ‘For toilet paper, there are no substitutes.’”

Empty Toilet Paper Aisle in SupermarketMany in our communities simply cannot stock up. A trip to the grocery store can be difficult in the best of times. I can’t even imagine the frustration of a mom taking a bus to the local grocery store only to find someone bought all the pasta. Or bread. Basics. Many don’t have the financial resources to buy more than a bit at a time, or they can’t lug much home with them on the bus, or while walking. The greed and fear of others has a direct and negative impact on their ability to feed themselves and their family.

I close with two thoughts as we walk through these next few weeks of social distancing and Lent together. First, remember to take only what you need. Remember those who will come after you. Remember you’re in a community and we all have to share.

And second, remember that if you did buy more than you can use, there are people who need it desperately. Agencies across our country are coming up with creative ways to feed and care for those most in need. Look for those agencies. All that food folks are stockpiling won’t last forever and it’s a shame to waste it. Please find someone who needs it and share. That’s the only way to come through Lent and find the joy of Easter with our community intact.

* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Western NC, Charlotte Area, and South Carolina Program Coordinator


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