I have a difficult time viewing safety as a virtue. Resilience perhaps, fortitude to be sure, but not just safety. I want my kids to be safe, of course. I want them to take reasonable precautions when doing dangerous or risky things. Safety serves the risk; it serves a life marked by danger. It is calculated and reasonably weighed out. But danger, why, danger is the stuff that makes life worth living. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “As soon as there is life, there is danger.” To elevate safety above engagement is a cowardly and timid way to engage this world.
These days it seems as if the greatest most useful thing anyone can do is be safe. We are to prize safety above all things. We are supposed to wear facemasks and gloves and stay locked safely within our own homes until we are given the all-clear to come outside again. Our neighbors inspire us with chants of, “Stay the #$!@ home!” as we scramble for safety while living among people who spread disease with their breath.
When risk and danger are taken from us, when we are not allowed to weigh the pros and cons and act according to our own convictions, we begin to starve ourselves of what makes life worth living. We learn, instead, to expect everything sterile and neat, coated in hand sanitizer and thoroughly fumigated long before we lay our hands upon it. We expect parental oversight of our lives and are thankful for it. Without the engagement of danger, life becomes somewhat less. Without risk everything is simply procedural, and you can see the end long before you get there.
We are growing accustomed to looking at everyone we pass by as a possible contagion, an incubator of a deadly virus that might not kill us but will definitely kill grandma. We steer away, keep our distance and do what is necessary to be safe. But none of this is really new. Every person you have ever engaged with is a possible source of sickness and disease. It is part of the risk of living in a community, part of what happens when we engage in the dangerous act of living. What Covid-19 has done is simply bring it to our attention, make us conscious of the dangers we were always living among.
So, we have our Zoom meetings and our livestream worship services. We engage by not really engaging as we call ourselves a community even though we no longer commune with one another. We are safe, or at least safer than we were before, for the time being, at least this is what we tell ourselves.
For me, all this emphasis on safety from those in authority over us is like a return to my mother’s care and protection; a place I left a long time ago, a place to which I have no desire to return. It is a boring and aimless sort of living that drains a man of his spirit and vigor. I fear our love for safety just might be the source of spiritual and mental crisis for years to come.
“We can dance if we want to,
we’ve got all your life and mine.
As long as we abuse it,
never gunna’ lose it
Everything’ll work out right”