We’re Only Human

Working together, we can beat the virus

By Norris Burkes
October 2021

A long, long time ago in a land called Waco, I began my freshman year at Baylor University inside the dilapidated off-campus housing reserved for penny-pinchers.

Fortunately, the Student Affairs Office mismatched me with two seniors, Tommy and Ken. Both were top of their class. Tommy was a ministerial student already pastoring a church. Ken was co-pilot for the university plane, flying every weekend to help recruit Baylor sports talent.

They both graciously offered their guiding wisdom. In return, I gave them the If-ever-I-can-do-anything-for-you speech. The upperclassmen laughed

Ken politely informed me that there was little, certainly nothing, really, that a frosh could ever do for him.
I responded by asking, “Ever heard of Aesop’s fable about the lion and the mouse?”

“You mean, ‘Androcles and the Lion’?” he said, referencing the second century folktale.

“No,” I said with freshman certainty. “Pretty sure it’s a lion and a mouse,” recalling the Little Golden Book version I knew from childhood.

It seems a hungry lion captured a mouse and was preparing to eat him, when the rodent begged to be spared.
The mouse promised if he were released, he would someday return the favor.

The lion roared in laughter at the one-sided equation, the ludicrous possibility that the pipsqueak could ever be helpful.

Nevertheless, the not-so-ferocious feline let him go.

Weeks later, the mouse again encountered the hungry carnivore. But this time, the king of the jungle was dethroned with an agonizing thorn stuck in his paw.

The mouse, anxious to prove his worth and fulfill his promise, struggled with the thorn until he extracted it from the lion’s paw.

Soon the lion was free and the two became close friends.

“I haven’t really heard that version,” Ken said, just before heading to bed in preparation for an early morning flight.

He left wearing the same smirk the lion must have worn. It’s the one I would often see on folks before the pandemic. They proclaimed they didn’t need anyone’s help. They considered themselves independent and self-reliant.

They were. That is, right up until they needed toilet paper and food. Right up to the time they cashed the stimulus check or took unemployment and rent assistance.

Working as one nation, one world, to defeat this virus doesn’t turn us into 20th century socialists. Needing help from each other doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human.

If this pandemic has made you feel like a helpless mouse, there’s one thing you can do to make a huge difference—get the vaccine.

My column today seeks inspiration from the opening line of John Donne’s 80-word 17th century poem: “No man is an island entire of itself.”

The poet’s point is illustrated with more than 4.5 million COVID-19 deaths worldwide. My brother Milton was one of those deaths.

That’s why Donne’s conclusion rings heavily within me:

“Any man’s death diminishes me….”

A few weeks after my discussion with Ken, I was alone in our apartment when the phone rang.

On the other end of the phone, Ken began with just two words.

“Hello, mouse?”

He had just returned from a recruitment trip and said he’d locked his keys in the car on the far side of our darkened campus.

Since AAA membership was beyond a student budget, Ken asked if I might take a 15-minute bicycle ride to bring his extra key.

After grabbing his key off his dresser, I returned to the phone. “Sir,” I reported, as I’d called all pilots. “Mouse en route in two minutes.”

From that day forward, Ken never let me call him “sir,” but when he needed something he would often call me “mouse.”

Norris Burkes can be reached at comment@thechaplain.net. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento. Burkes is available for public speaking at civic organizations, places of worship, veterans groups and more. For details and fees, visit thechaplain.net.

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