Kevin Coval went to buy eggs at Tia Nam, a small Vietnamese grocery in Uptown. An old woman asked if he could help her reach three bags of rice noodles on a high shelf. As he did, he realized this was the closest he had been to another human being in days. He didn’t look at the store clerk in quite the same way, either.
“I’ve been struck by those folks,” said the Chicago poet. “A month ago, they didn’t consider themselves to be first responders. Now, they’re risking their lives to get us fed. That’s pretty remarkable. I’ve always known working people to have a rigor and integrity. Now, we see them in ways we wouldn’t have conceived a month ago.”
Chicagoans are keeping their distance, interacting in new ways while seeing each other in a different light. As the city and the region struggle to face a virus that doesn’t recognize distinctions of class or race or religion, longstanding problems come into stark relief even as people reach across old boundaries to help one another, and tantalizing possibilities suggest themselves.
This all comes during a season sacred to three major religions, with Passover having begun Wednesday night, followed by Good Friday and Easter Sunday and Ramadan less than two weeks away.
"We’re doing all this in these days of the Easter season, what we call the Easter Passover,” said Cardinal Blase Cupich, spiritual leader of Chicago’s Catholics. “What people are learning in this time is how connected we are. This moment is really forcing all of us to realize we are connected. We’re connected by this virus. Social distancing is telling us how related we are to one another. We have a drive to want to be connected to other people. We don’t want to live isolated lives. We are nourished by that.”
The cardinal was referring to spiritual nourishment, but there is plenty of the other kind, too. Shuttered restaurants are donating food to pantries and to hospitals to feed besieged doctors and nurses working 12-hour shifts. Police officers, often the targets of criticism, find themselves embraced — from a safe distance, of course.