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FROM MARCH MADNESS TO SADNESS TO GLADNESS

March 21, 2020

March is a restless time.  Many of our familiar clichés and quotes about March confirm the unsettled nature of this, the third month on our calendars.  

The time-honored adage, “in like a lion, and out like a lamb,” describes the dramatic changes we might expect in the weather.

Shakespeare’s warning to Julius Caesar, “Beware the ides of March” signals a feeling of foreboding. 

“As wild as a March hare” implies that even rabbits are more impetuous during these thirty-one days. 

Maybe the humorous poet Ogden Nash put it best:

                              Indoors or out, no one relaxes

                              In March, that month of wind and taxes,

                              The wind will presently disappear,

                              The taxes last us all the year.

In March, cabin fever gives way to spring fever.  The winter has kept us more confined than we like, with much of the colder months being spent on the inside looking out.  All around are signs of the hope of Spring.  School children, bundled against the March winds, fly kites in open fields. 

Emily Dickinson wrote in one of her sonnets, 

                                  A little Madness in the Spring

                                   Is wholesome even for a King.

Spring-cleaning, which goes much deeper than the ordinary, is one example of wholesome madness.  Most homemakers have a moment, often in the Spring, when an impulse to tidy up seizes them.  The urge takes them from the ceiling to the floor and from the back of closets and cabinets to the far reaches of basement and attic.  It is a particularly virulent form of spring fever that can become confounding and even annoying to those not afflicted with the sickness. 

What is worse is when the spring-cleaning madness, though wholesome in its outcome, works at cross-purposes with March Madness of the basketball variety.  Many a couch potato has been rousted from comfort by a renegade vacuum cleaner, intruding into the line of vision during the final seconds of an overtime game.

During March, the National Collegiate Athletic Association showcases conference tournaments, closely followed by the Big Dance, the NCAA basketball tournament. The roundball frenzy has become, indeed, March Madness.

But not this year. March of 2020 abruptly changed from March Madness to March sadness.

On Wednesday, March 10, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz and later, teammate Donovan Mitchell said they tested positive for the coronavirus. That night National Basketball League commissioner Adam Silver showed the world what courageous leadership looked like when he announced the league would suspend the NBA season indefinitely.

The New Orleans Pelicans with their rookie star Zion Williamson were to face the Sacramento Kings in what was the last game before the season was suspended.  But prior to tip-off, the Pelicans locker room learned that Courtney Kirkland, the veteran referee who was scheduled to officiate the game, had been exposed to the virus.  Just two days before, he had called a game between the Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors in Salt Lake City.

Within hours of the NBA’s decision, other sports leagues followed suit. Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and the National Hockey League all acted. MLB called off spring training and delayed its season, MLS suspended play for 30 days, and the NHL suspended its season.

The NBA announcement caught many in the sports world by surprise, including many NBA players and fans.  Lakers star LeBron James tweeted: “Man, we are canceling sporting events, school, office work, etc. What we really need to cancel is 2020! … God bless and stay safe.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association hesitated to suspend the college basketball season. After all, it was March Madness Tournament time.

Initially, on Wednesday, the NCAA announced a plan to confront the pandemic health crisis. It said the tournament would go on as scheduled, but fans would not be allowed to attend the games.

The following day, just as Clemson was about to play against the number one seed, Florida State, in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, the NCAA canceled all basketball. South Carolina’s game against Arkansas, scheduled for later that day, was also scrubbed.

Most disappointing of all for Palmetto State residents was the cancelation of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. The Lady Gamecocks were favored to win the national championship. Their coach and Coach of the Year, Dawn Staley, was philosophical.

This is a difficult time with so many conflicting emotions,” she said. “First and foremost, we have to recognize how important it is to do the right thing for our community. Sports is a big part of our lives, but just one part of how we are connected to each other. We need to step back and think about the larger good served by canceling events that put people at risk.

Thousands of college athletes were disappointed by the way the season has ended in basketball and many other spring sports as campuses close and move to online instruction. March Madness turned to March sadness.

The sadness runs much deeper than sports. As I pen these words, the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly a quarter of a million people in 173 countries worldwide. Almost 10,000 people have died.

Historically, there have been far worse outbreaks. The Black Death, from 1331 to 1353, caused an estimated 75 million fatalities. The Spanish flu, from 1918 to 1920, infected 500 million people around the world, including people on remote Pacific islands and in the Arctic. That pandemic resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million people.

Currently, many of us face uncomfortable adjustments in our lives. Grocery store shelves are depleted. Even bathroom tissue is in short supply. Anxiety and depression are intense for many. Still, I have discovered reasons for sadness to give way to gladness.

In New Orleans, Spartanburg’s own Zion Williamson pledged to cover the salaries of all Pelican arena workers for the next thirty days. Rudy Gobert, the first player to test positive for the virus, has pledged $500,000 for support of those affected by the pandemic.

My Facebook page has many posts about people trying to help others.

On the same day the NBA decided to suspend the basketball season, Pastor Lynn Unger was pondering the response to the pandemic. The Chicago Tribune reported,

Unger had been thinking about social distancing, the idea that to keep the virus from spreading, we need to stay away from one another. She’d been reflecting on a question: How do we physically distance ourselves without emotional distancing? In this strange and befuddling moment, she thought, we need to recognize that moving away from other people isn’t an act of emotional disconnection but the opposite: It’s something to do out of a sense of community and compassion for the vulnerable.

Pastor Unger sat at her kitchen table and wrote a poem.

Pandemic

What if you thought of it

as the Jews consider the Sabbath —

the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel.

Cease from buying and selling.

Give up, just for now,

on trying to make the world.

different than it is.

Sing. Pray. Touch only those.

to whom you commit your life.

Center down.

And when your body has become still,

reach out with your heart.

Know that we are connected

in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.

(You could hardly deny it now.)

Know that our lives

are in one another’s hands.

(Surely, that has come clear.)

Do not reach out your hands.

Reach out your heart.

Reach out your words.

Reach out all the tendrils.

of compassion that move, invisibly,

where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love —

for better or for worse,

in sickness and in health,

so long as we all shall live.

— Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

The prophet Isaiah declares to those who have been  liberated from exile:

Those the Lord has rescued will return …with singing;

    everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them,

    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

                                                       Isaiah 51:11

If we heed the sage advice in Pastor Unger’s poem, we will find that in March 2020, our madness turned from sadness to gladness. It is the power of love that reaches across social distancing, enabling us to respond in hope and joy.

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