Time for the miracle of the tissues!
There is nothing to be feared more than fear itself.
Well at least when fear is centred on the unknown, when the object of fear is ill-defined, and keeps changing shape. The lessening of fear usually occurs with the coming of understanding, with a clearer view of what we are dealing with. When you don’t quite know what you are scared of, when there seems no definite boundaries to our fear, it expands to occupy all the space of our imaginings.
Uncontained fear becomes terror, where we hand over control to the shadow of the thing we dread. And there seems to have been definite signs of such behaviour this week in the supermarkets of Australia. The photograph on the front cover was taken in Woollies at Kotara on Wednesday of an aisle which would normally be stocked with toilet paper and now completely empty. I found it hard to believe that there was such a rush on until I walked across the road from the church and was nearly knocked over by a burly man coming out of the shop gripping several large packets of toilet paper with a big smile of triumph across his face.
What ridiculous behaviour was my instant thought, until I decided to check how stocks were going at home in the cupboard. (We might cut down on visitors in the next few weeks.)
As a nation we have congratulated ourselves on the many ways we all chipped in and helped each other with support during the aftermath of the bushfire disaster. Benefit concerts, generous donations, heaps of community spirit have helped those facing the challenge of re-building their lives.
A middle aged man recounted the story of doing his weekly shopping at Mayfield earlier this week and while reaching across to pick up one packet of toilet paper was rudely pushed out of the way by an elderly grandmother who took all the toilet paper that was left. She left glaring at the man as she headed for the cash register.
I noticed that on online at a website where people sell unwanted goods, there are now adverts for toilet paper, $100 for a packet, $250 a packet plus a bottle of wine, or even buy it by the sheet, 1$ each! Surely they are joking. Surely people are not so panicked, fearful, and driven by self preservation to act like this. There are those well stocked and those who are not, there are now two classes of people in Australia. And then there was the news of the truck in Queensland delivering toilet paper that had caught alight. Bushfires are one thing, a burning truck of toilet paper is clearly another!
A friend of Facebook shared the following observation. “Tonight, as I cooked dinner, I noticed my nine year old search online for the word ‘coronavirus’ and watch the start of a news report about the impact. When I sat down with her I asked her if she was anxious about the virus. She burst into tears. She then asked a whole lot of questions that have been weighing on her mind. Our children are listening, friends. We need to be prepared for the impact of fear and ‘not knowing’ can have on little bodies and minds. This should be a focus for us right now.”
This is one mum’s advice, which is to find an adequate container for our fear. Fear pushes us into a mode of self-preservation, understanding invites us to relate to each other as a community of love.
This is clearly a time to contain anxiety about the unknown and to be well informed, to care for another, to ask if we are doing OK. Never give over your life to fear, it dehumanises you, robs you of your freedom, and isolates you from those you love.
Rather than the miracle of the loaves and fishes, maybe its going to be the time for the miracle of the tissues!
Rod Pattenden is the Minister of the Word at Adamstown Uniting Church
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