Living as immigrants in a foreign culture, my three kids were raised on a diet of British comedy videos – and in a recent family quiz night, (intercontinental entertainment by Zoom), I was appalled that the highest score on a round of “Blackadder” questions was obtained by our youngest daughter, who could not have been older than six or seven at the time. Amongst the famous sayings of Mr Blackadder, butler to Prince George, quoted by his inimitable dogsbody, Baldrick, one stands out in the current season: “Mr Blackadder always says, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough hide under the table.’”
Of course, in the original quotation, attributed to an American football coach, the tough are meant to get going – whereas Mr Blackadder’s philosophy of life derives from the Shakespearian tradition of the comic figure Falstaff, for whom “discretion is the better part of valour,” (i.e. don’t rush headlong into battle if you can do otherwise.) Despite the frustrations of this season of confinement, most of us are extremely grateful for the discretion shown by our President and leaders in delaying the engagement with the COVID battle – the drastic measures around social distancing have certainly been effective in flattening the curve and buying precious time for emergency services to be increased; our response capacity has been enhanced by acquiring PPEs and mobilising large-scale testing.
But the economy cannot remain in lockdown forever, and as the situation opens up, we are going to have to engage with whatever that brings. This is no time for hiding under the table – as we have seen in other countries, full engagement with the COVID crisis is going to require full commitment – not only from the frontline workers, who have already been working hard as the rest of the country languishes in seclusion. Volunteers will be needed to support the front-line workers as they are pushed to limits of endurance. Mediclinic has already opened a database of potential volunteers: https://www.mediclinic.co.za/en/corporate/corona-virus/covid-19-volunteering.html
Churches and other community groups have been working to deliver food to the homeless and other vulnerable sectors of our society. Counselling services will be needed to support those who have been traumatised by the medical and social effects of the virus. Creative entrepreneurs will be needed to engage in nation-building post-Corona. Now is the time for loving and engaging with our world in ways that we never imagined – and as we do that, hope emerges for a humanity that, if it can rise to this challenge, can rise to any challenge in the future. There are few alive today who faced the global challenge of world war – a time of loss and despair, but also hope and heroism. This current global challenge is not only a time fraught with danger, but a time of unprecedented opportunity to tackle the large-scale challenges that threaten our planet and which will only be met by a global response: climate change, poverty, hunger. It has been so inspirational to see our President rise to the challenge of creating a solution for our WHOLE population, rich and poor, employed and unemployed, young and old, sick and healthy. Whether he succeeds or not, he will go down in the annals of history as someone who boldly stepped up to the challenge. It is up to each one of us to look around and see what aspect of the problem we can step towards. No one is exempt from this challenge.