Love your neighbor

We have passed the year mark since COVID-19 appeared and changed life as we knew it. Those of us who survive, (way too few) are at a turning point. We can see the possibility of a return to normality. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, as they say.

Unfortunately as we turn this corner, our path forks and we must choose which way to go. All paths seem to have a light at the end, but several of them have an oncoming train, which will prolong our journey and demand of us more of our human family as casualties of this pandemic.

Jesus told his followers that the greatest commandments were to love God and love our neighbors.

At first glance, loving your neighbor seems doable. We say hello, try not to let any of their behavior ruffle our feathers, and do our best not to be perpetrators of any obnoxious behavior to ruffle their feathers.

However, your neighbors go beyond those who live in the next apartment or house. Neighbors also include the people on your block, across the street, those across town, across our country and around the world. We live in an interconnected world.

Do you wear your mask? If you love your neighbor, you will not take a chance of passing on this virus, even if you are feeling fine. You will even wear your mask after you have become fully vaccinated except where new guidelines tell us it is not necessary. We know that people who have COVID-19 can pass on the virus several days before they have symptoms and others never get symptoms (are asymptomatic.)

Do you continue to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer? If you love your neighbor, you want to keep yourself healthy so you can be a good neighbor, checking on family and friends and helping out. We need to continue this for ourselves and for others.

Do you go to gatherings? If you love your neighbor, you will be careful as you begin to add these things back into your life, and will follow the guidelines. When choosing in-person worship, respect the new ways of “passing the peace,” singing masked, seating restrictions, etc., or choose to continue to worship virtually for the present. When going to a restaurant or store, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas and cover your coughs and sneezes (especially in this spring allergy season) so that there is less chance of us spreading any germs we might carry.

Do your part for your health and because you love your neighbor.

You must also choose whether to take a path to get your vaccination. If you love your neighbor you, and all eligible adults, need to become fully vaccinated as soon as you are able! For me, that means I will have my second shot on March 31 and then will qualify as fully vaccinated on April 14. Even then, we all need to continue to mask, wash hands, social distance and so on, except where the rules have been relaxed for those fully vaccinated who are around others who are fully vaccinated or in other limited groups.

We need to move out of this pandemic, which can only happen when we reach “Herd Immunity” when 80 percent of a group is immune to COVID-19. We can either get there through vaccination or by allowing the pandemic to spread and make folks sick until 80 percent of those who survive have natural immunity. The cost in human life (540,000 and counting in the United States) and hospitalization ($85,000-plus per stay) makes the latter an unacceptable choice.

We will have the eyes of the world on us over the next few months as children look forward to playing ball again and possibly being in the Little League World Series. We do not yet know where Little League will be able to be played this year, or if the World Series will take place. However, it would be wonderful if Little League International could say that Lycoming County loves our neighbors so much that 80 percent of us are fully vaccinated, ready to “Welcome the World!”

Won’t you join me in showing folks near and far just how much you love your neighbor?

The Rev. Gwen Bernstine of Williamsport, part of the ecumenical staff of United Churches of Lycoming County for 30 years, is a member of Let’s End COVID!, a group of concerned people in Northcentral PA working to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic through education, outreach and mitigation.


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