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May 26, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

In India, a 700-mile bicycle trip powered by a daughter’s love

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Sometimes, all you need is a daughter’s love – and a bike – to carry you home.

The coronavirus lockdown in India has forced millions to flee the cities to their home villages, where family networks offer a safety net. But one father-daughter journey home – a tale of courage and persistence – has captivated the nation. 

Fifteen-year-old Jyoti Kumari pedaled a secondhand bicycle some 700 miles with her dad, Mohan Paswan, riding on the back. He’d injured his foot, so they couldn’t walk. They had no money. They slept by the road and relied on the kindness of strangers for food. 

The father was mocked by passersby, reported The Wire, for letting a girl carry him. After 10 days, they arrived home exhausted. But wait, there’s more. As their fame spread, Jyoti was invited to try out for India’s national cycling team. “I’m elated, I really want to go,” she told The New York Times.

One reporter compared her to Shravan Kumar, a character in the Ramayana epic. A pilgrimage to holy sites in old age, says Hindu belief, purifies the soul. But Shravan Kumar, the tale goes, was broke. So, he put each of his parents in a basket tied to either end of a bamboo pole that he carried over his shoulder.

The analogy works, Mr. Paswan told The Tribune. “The journey back home has been nothing short of a pilgrimage. Having arrived feels like salvation.” 

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As Georgia reopens, is it creating a model for America?

Georgia’s rapid reopening one month ago had health officials predicting a new wave of COVID-19 cases. So far that hasn’t happened. Our reporter looks for clues the state may hold for the rest of the U.S.

David
Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
People visiting Tybee Island, Georgia, on May 25, 2020, appear to be maintaining social distancing guidelines even as executive orders have expired. But masks are few and far between. Personal behavior and the weather will be two keys to the shape of the pandemic recovery, experts say.

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A former soldier who has lost several friends to the virus, Wayne Dukes is definitely wrestling as he watches the crowds walk by on the Tybee Pier.

“There is no normal, that’s gone,” says Mr. Dukes, a Savannah resident. “Everyone is figuring this out. And a lot of it depends on where you live and who you are.”

Across the country, the holiday weekend brought tens of thousands out as all 50 states began lifting pandemic restrictions last week.

The fact that Georgia so far seems to be bucking the national consensus that its rapid reopening of businesses would result in disaster has been widely noted. The Wall Street Journal has dubbed it the “Georgia Model.”

“What we’re starting to see is there’s a lot of financial and economic pain in the country, and quite frankly people are starting to wrestle with the very ugly decision about how much death and real sickness are we willing to tolerate to get people back to work so they can pay their rent and feed their families,” says Gregg Murray, a political scientist at Augusta University.

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1. As Georgia reopens, is it creating a model for America?

Georgia peach broker Brandon Jones was hoping for a banner weekend.

He thought peaches on Memorial Day in Georgia would be a sure sellout, so he brought 20 boxes to Tybee Island, which exploded with people over the holiday weekend as the United States began to reopen.

But his peach sales were far off despite the crowds. He took the profit problems instructively – as a symbol of an America cautiously stepping out from under pandemic restrictions.

Also on display: the challenge ahead. Local customers at a farmers’ market in nearby Savannah nearly all wear masks. But perhaps 1 in 100 tourists at Tybee Beach did on Monday as a T-shirt that said “I survived the 2020 pandemic” hung from the rafters at the grocery store.

“I’m worried that locals take reasonable precautions, but tourists may come here and say, ‘Georgia’s open, let’s go!’” says Mr. Jones.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The fact that Georgia so far seems to be bucking the consensus that its rapid reopening of businesses exactly one month ago would result in disaster has been widely noted. The Wall Street Journal dubbed it the “Georgia Model.”

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Georgia resident Brandon Jones sells peaches on Tybee Island, Georgia, on May 25, 2020, as all 50 states began reopening their economies. Mr. Jones says he practices "reasonable precautions" against the coronavirus, but worries that few other people will when restrictions lift.

“What we’re starting to see is there’s a lot of financial and economic pain in the country, and quite frankly people are starting to wrestle with the very ugly decision about how much death and real sickness are we willing to tolerate to get people back to work so they can pay their rent and feed their families,” says Gregg Murray, a political scientist at Augusta University in Georgia.

“There is no normal”

A former soldier who has lost several friends to the virus, Wayne Dukes is definitely wrestling as he watches the crowds walk by on the Tybee pier.

“There is no normal, that’s gone,” says Mr. Dukes, a Savannah resident. “Everyone is figuring this out. And a lot of it depends on where you live and who you are.”

Across the country, the holiday weekend brought tens of thousands out as all 50 states began lifting pandemic restrictions last week.

That has resulted in some modest economic improvements, but in Georgia, where restaurants have been able to operate for three weeks, dine-in traffic is about 12% compared with a year ago.

Those numbers show that, despite a packed pier on Tybee Island and much-publicized scenes of mobbed pool parties over the Memorial Day weekend in Texas and Missouri, many Americans are taking a cautious approach to reopening.

That hesitancy may have helped, public health officials say. Georgia’s rolling seven-day average of new cases has declined, according to the Department of Public Health, down from nearly 728 on May 19 to 308 on May 25. Other tallies show the number of cases running flat, despite an increase in the state’s testing rate. That improvement comes as Georgia state officials apologized last week for adding faulty data that made its decline look more pronounced, citing a processing error. And in neighboring Florida, data scientist Rebekah Jones, who handled the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, claims that she was fired for refusing to fudge numbers in order to support the state’s reopening plan.

Texas, Arizona, Alabama, and North Carolina have seen spikes amid reopening, even as the numbers in the epicenters in New York and New Jersey are falling as those states more slowly ease restrictions. 

Modelers worry about an uptick in Southern states, but acknowledge that there are huge X factors – including whether hot weather might help hold down the spread – that are playing out in places like Tybee Island, which saw an estimated 80,000 people descend on its 3 square miles over the Memorial Day weekend.

“Policy matters, but what matters even more is personal behavior,” says Kent Smetters, a modeler at Penn Wharton Budget Model, which predicts COVID-19 infections across the U.S. “Suppose that these people view these partial reopenings as a kind of social cue ... that things are OK, and as a result they reduce their own personal social distancing, then the [mortality] effect is bigger.”

Some of those interviewed, like Mr. Dukes, expressed concern about the extent to which leadership and partisan politics have colored the U.S. response to a pandemic that has so far claimed nearly 100,000 American lives.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Wayne Dukes and Cynthia Walker of Savannah take in some sun while sitting on the Tybee Pier on May 25, 2020. Mr. Dukes says he has lost several friends to the virus, but is wrestling with how much precaution to take. "You can't live in fear," he says.

After all, the top six of the seven hardest-hit states are blue states. Massachusetts, No. 3, is run by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. Texas, where cases are increasing, is seventh. Those blue states – which share high population density, colder weather, more public transportation – have about half of all cases, but only a third of the nation’s population.

How partisan is the decision-making?

Yet so far, the state-led response appears to have focused on public health. Most governors have seen their approval ratings soar, with Ohio Republican Mike DeWine at No. 1. Governor DeWine shut his state down quickly, was the first to send schoolchildren home, and has defended his public health officials against partisan protesters.

In a study of 785 executive orders from March 6 to May 11, researcher Maryann Feldman found that “a partisan lens does not provide much additional insight” into state responses. Partisanship may play a larger role going forward, however, she says.

“The fact that we saw many of the governors who don’t have to care about reelection issue more orders suggests that [political leaders] are feeling constrained by their electability,” says Ms. Feldman, a public policy professor at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. “We have to keep stressing that this is a public health problem, not a political problem.”

On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence touched down in Atlanta to meet with Gov. Brian Kemp, who has received low marks for his handling of the pandemic. Yet despite a series of missteps, there are signs that his gamble to limit restrictions despite several heavy outbreaks may have paid off.

What’s behind a model whose success bucks conventional wisdom? Some experts point to the heat, and the humidity. “The weather would be my answer,” says Michael Levitt, a Stanford biophysicist who is tracking the virus, in an interview.

“Be like Sweden”?

And for researchers looking at the dynamics of a possible resurgence, one question is at the heart of what’s happening here and beyond: Will Georgia be America’s Sweden? And what does that mean?

“Be like Sweden” flags have flown over anti-lockdown protests in the U.S. The Scandinavian nation kept restaurants and public schools open while relying on citizens’ judgment to contain the virus. While it has escaped the massive death tolls of the U.S., United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain, it reached the highest per capita death rate in the world last week.

“Sweden really had very few lockdowns, but people also interpreted that as we have to be personally responsible and maintain a fair amount of social distancing despite some of the restaurant scenes,” says Mr. Smetters. “But that is a very different culture, and it may be easier for them since Swedes [tend to be] socially distant” culturally.

At least one Georgian is determined to adopt that model, at least in spirit.

“I’m bracing” for a wave of new cases, says Mr. Dukes, the Savannah soldier. “I hope I’m wrong. But we also can’t live our lives in fear.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Navigating uncertainty

The search for global bearings

How a DIY nation has made it this far

“Going it alone” means one thing to nationalist leaders bucking global trends – and quite another in Somaliland. We go there for lessons on self-sufficiency and nation building. Part 8 in our global series “Navigating Uncertainty.”

David
Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
During a break between classes, children play in the courtyard of the primary school in Salahley, a village near the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa. The school was constructed by an NGO called Garoodi, which receives money directly from Somalilanders in the diaspora.

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Where, and what, is Somaliland?

The first question is easier: it’s in the Horn of Africa. The second is trickier. In the eyes of most of the world, Somaliland is an autonomous region of Somalia. In the eyes of Somaliland’s residents, though, it’s a country: a democracy with its own currency and passport. 

Three decades ago, in the midst of Somalia’s civil war, Somaliland declared independence. But without international recognition, it has been locked out of most foreign aid, and remains deeply impoverished.

Yet it’s also stable and peaceful. And the global system that could grant Somaliland recognition is itself in trouble, with once taken-for-granted norms shaken by rising nationalism, go-it-alone leaders, and now a worldwide pandemic. Some governments, including the Trump administration, are arguing for steep cuts to aid spending. That seems poised to continue, as COVID-19 crises demand more attention at home.

Somaliland’s approach has major limitations. Yet it also poses a question: What if a poor country was left to develop on its own, without the world’s help? Could it manage? Might it even thrive?

“The world turned away from us and ultimately it was a blessing,” says Hassan Mohamed Ali, minister of planning and national development.

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2. How a DIY nation has made it this far

Hassan Mohamed Ali is asked the same question about his homeland so often that he has it printed on the back of his business card. 

“Where in the world is Somaliland?” the text reads, beside a map showing the location of the self-declared state in the Horn of Africa.  

That is the trouble with being the minister of planning and national development for a country that technically doesn’t exist. Most people don’t even know where to find you.   

But Mr. Ali knows that Somaliland’s anonymity also gives it certain advantages. His nation, which peeled off from Somalia during its civil war in 1991, is unrecognized but stable; poor but peaceful. It has somehow cobbled together a functioning state, with a democratic government, international borders, and its own currency and passport. 

“The world turned away from us and ultimately it was a blessing,” says Mr. Ali. “We didn’t have help, so we were forced to develop our own homegrown system.” 

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
Hassan Mohamed Ali, Somaliland's Minister of Planning and National Development, says Somaliland's lack of international recognition has been a blessing in disguise for its development. “We didn’t have help [from the global community], so we were forced to develop our own homegrown system," he says.

For three decades, Somaliland has been locked out of a club that confers countries’ ultimate necessities: diplomatic legitimacy, and with it, money. If recognized, the nation could apply for World Bank loans. It could benefit from bilateral aid agreements, and take a seat at the United Nations. Without a doubt, being unacknowledged has cost the territory during its crucial early years. 

But today the global system is in disrepute, with once taken-for-granted norms shaken by rising nationalism, go-it-alone leaders, and now a worldwide pandemic. Some Western governments, including the Trump administration, are arguing for steep cuts to aid spending. That trend seems all but sure to continue, now that developed countries are focusing their resources on COVID-19 crises at home.

While Somaliland goes it alone, neighboring Somalia offers a stark illustration of a world where foreign assistance falls short, often seeming driven as much by donors’ interests as locals’ needs. Although pumped full of foreign aid, foreign expertise, and foreign guns, Somalia’s government can barely control its capital city. Powerful militias govern much of its territory, and the country is near the bottom of global rankings for almost every measure of the quality of life.

While most experts find that aid does boost growth, it also creates powerful entanglements and obligations from which poorer countries struggle to free themselves. “There’s no free lunch in this world,” says Sa’ad Mohamed Abdi Gedo, director of the Diaspora Department at Somaliland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Everyone has an interest behind the money they give.” 

But Somaliland’s story offers up another possible model. What if a poor country was left to develop on its own, without the world’s help? Could it manage? Might it even thrive?

Plan versus reality

Somaliland didn’t exactly intend to go it alone. When it declared independence from Somalia in 1991, its leaders thought international recognition would soon follow.

They quickly proved themselves in all the ways poor countries were “supposed to.” They held democratic elections; disarmed rebel groups still roaming the countryside; and set up a government that collected taxes, patrolled the borders, and printed its own currency.

And they built it all, quite literally, from rubble. The government in Mogadishu had violently suppressed the region’s fight for autonomy in the late 1980s; estimates of how many people were killed range as high as 200,000. Most of its capital city was destroyed as Somalia’s president, Siad Barre, tried to bomb the north of his country into submission.

Some 750,000 Somalilanders fled their homes during the war. The current deputy minister of foreign affairs, Liban Yousuf Osman, was among them. He was just 5 years old when his family returned to Hargeisa in 1991, and remembers it through the eyes of a child: a “city of stumps” and “ghost houses,” where he and his friends played elaborate games of hide and seek, trying to avoid the land mines still inside.

But slowly, it was rebuilt. Flung across a diaspora that stretched from neighboring Ethiopia to the United States, the Middle East, and Australia, Somalilanders began to return home. They opened glossy blue-windowed storefronts, reconstructed neighborhoods, erected new mosques.

“Immediately after the war there was no aid, no foreign investment,” says Guleid Ahmed Jama, a lawyer and founder of the Human Rights Center, a Hargeisa-based human rights watchdog. “That means that the citizens were the ones in charge of building their country from the start. It was their money, their investment.”

There was just one hitch: The rest of the world refused to acknowledge Somaliland’s existence.

There are many reasons, but they boil down to one: “The world today is extremely afraid of countries breaking in two,” says Maria Gaheir, co-founder of the Center for Policy Analysis, a Hargeisa-based think tank focused on democracy and human rights. The last big wave of new countries in the world came with the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. But since then, the world – bolstered by international bodies like the United Nations – has been nearly unified in its opposition to the formation of new states. Only five have been recognized in the last 25 years.  

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

In Africa, the argument against recognizing Somaliland is that it will open the floodgates, encouraging secessionist groups from Senegal to Tanzania to make their own cases for independence. For the rest of the world, meanwhile, the argument is even simpler: Somalia says Somaliland is part of it. And because of Somalia’s strategic location in the Gulf of Aden, other countries are inclined to respect its wishes.

And so Somaliland carries on, “a reality in every aspect except recognition,” says Mr. Osman, the deputy for foreign affairs. “We have our territory. We have our government. We have our independence. The only thing we don’t have is the world’s acknowledgement.”

Turn to the “uncle abroad”

In the center of Hargeisa, in a plaza where men while away hours drinking earthy camel milk tea and chewing thick bundles of khat, a local narcotic, and taxis idle waiting for customers, stands an old Somali fighter plane mounted on a tall pedestal. Thirty years ago, this plane was part of the fleet that bombed Hargeisa into submission.

Today, it hovers above a city that, since then, has managed something few other countries in the region have: peace. And for that alone, many Somalilanders argue, they deserve the world’s recognition.

But the value would also be deeply practical. Because Somaliland doesn’t technically exist, it can’t get loans for big development projects from financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund. It can’t sign bilateral aid agreements – the kinds that exist between two countries – because it isn’t, according to most of the world, a country at all.

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
Children study in Salahley, near the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa. The school was constructed by an NGO called Garoodi, which receives money from the diaspora. “Growing up, education conditions were very difficult for us,” says Mustafa Ismail Jama, the school’s principal. “So we wanted it to be different for our children.”

That leaves Somaliland deeply impoverished. Its government estimates that in 2017, gross domestic product was about $675 per person, which would make it among the 15 poorest countries in the world. Its economy relies heavily on the black-headed sheep roaming its streets and scrubby countryside. (Picture a typical sheep whose head has been dipped in a pot of ink.) Those are exported by the millions to Saudi Arabia during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Some money still squeaks in. Major aid organizations often fund Somaliland via their Somalia projects, quietly navigating the politics on both sides. A Somaliland development fund channels money from the British, Danish, and Dutch governments.

But even adjusted for population – Somalia has about three times the population of Somaliland – the $150 million a year in total aid to Somaliland is a fraction of the $2 billion allocated to Somalia in 2018.

As a result, its beige countryside is remarkably empty of the handwritten, rusting signboards from international charities that stand at attention in villages across Africa, announcing another successful project to dig wells, fund schools, or supply hospitals.

To fill that gap, Somaliland has leaned heavily on its diaspora.

Remittances account for more than half the GDP, according to a 2012 United Nations estimate. By comparison, the World Bank estimates that there are only three recognized countries– Tonga, Kyrgyzstan, and Haiti – where remittances account for 30% or more of GDP. One of the world’s largest money transfer services, WorldRemit, was founded by a Somalilander, and a dozen different companies advertise their services on billboards across the capital, as ubiquitous as a New York Starbucks.

“Here remittances are much more important than foreign aid. We depend on them,” says Mr. Gedo, of the diaspora department. “The diaspora knows our struggles, so their aid is more than money. With international organizations, you never know when the funding will end. But your uncle abroad will never abandon you.”

The proverbial “uncle abroad” has been responsible for much of Somaliland’s development over the last three decades, says Yousef Hussein, who leads a small nongovernmental organization called Garoodi, which supports a village near Hargeisa called Salahley.

That’s possible in large part because Somali society puts strong emphasis on a person’s ties to others, and particularly to extended community networks called clans.

“In the West, you buy insurance,” he says. “Here our clan is our insurance policy.”

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
Yousef Hussein, chair of the Somaliland NGO Garoodi, waves to a worker building a road between the capital, Hargeisa, and Salahley, 50 miles south. Garoodi organized and paid for parts of this road using money raised from the diaspora, a common funding model here.

Like many communities, Salahley was leveled by the war. When residents returned in the 1990s, its primary school was crumpled tin roofs and piles of rubble. There was no functioning hospital. The roads in and out of the village were gashes of dirt, which turned to muddy sinkholes whenever it rained.

And so the community turned to relatives in London and Boston and Abu Dhabi, asking for help rebuilding what they had lost.

In 2000, a group of Salahley residents and their relatives abroad formed a small organization, which they called Garoodi for the name of a livestock-grazing area near the village.

Garoodi rebuilt the L-shaped concrete school, and installed a dormitory so that children of nomadic families could stop missing half the year. And then, for the next 18 years, they also paid the salaries of the teachers who worked there.  

After the school came the hospital, and after the hospital, the road to town. In each case, Garoodi organized funds from its members abroad – first via a Yahoo group, and later, on the chat messaging platform WhatsApp.

The set-up is intentionally simple, says Abdiasis Geddi, Garoodi’s secretary and an accountant who lives near Boston. Donors abroad can see what’s happening in Somaliland in real time – from cellphone photos of flooded roads, collapsed roofs, or shriveled crops – and send money directly to the organization’s bank account.

This means that unlike larger aid groups, Garoodi can respond to a disaster within days, or sometimes hours.

“A lot of international aid is wasted on things we don’t need,” says Mr. Ali, the minister of planning and national development. “The diaspora knows the country much better than aid organizations.”

Garoodi charges its members in the diaspora a small annual fee, and does occasional funding drives for specific projects.

“In Somaliland, after people start a project with their own initiative, then sometimes government comes in to assist further on,” Mr. Hussein says. In the case of the school, for instance, government now pays teachers’ salaries. It sends a doctor from Hargeisa to see hospital patients three times a week. The road construction project is now being assisted by government as well.

But there are also major limitations to relying on personal charity for development.

For one, it depends on strong ties to the diaspora, something that Mr. Geddi says becomes more difficult with each passing year, as emigrants die and their children, who have spent their lives abroad, take over as breadwinners.

And perhaps most importantly, much like foreign aid funders, Somaliland’s diaspora has things it likes to fund – and things it doesn’t.

“Most diaspora aid goes to very non-controversial projects, orphanages, schools, and wells,” says Ms. Gaheir, of the Center for Policy Analysis. “It’s much harder if you want money to end something like domestic violence, or support human rights.”

And that, she says, puts real limitations on how far Somaliland can develop on its own.

“Of course when money comes from the outside, it complicates things. But it’s naive to say we’d rather be poor and independent,” says Jama Musse Jama, a commentator and organizer of the Hargeisa International Book Fair. “We are touching the ceiling of what we can do with our current funding. And you can’t run a country on national pride.”

To get beyond its current impasse, he says, Somaliland needs international recognition. That would unlock World Bank and IMF funding, as well as much larger donations from other countries – and a place in the global community of nations.

The nation, he says, has reached a pivot point. More than 70% of Somalilanders are under age 30, according to World Health Organization estimates. That means they don’t remember a time before the nation’s independence, or the horrific violence its older residents endured.

“My brother was killed in front of me during the war, so I know the price of peace,” Mr. Jama says. “But for young people, peace is all they know, and what they’re saying now is that it’s not enough. We also need jobs. We also need development.”

Nusmila Lohani contributed reporting from Boston, and Asma Dhamac contributed reporting from Hargeisa. 

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Rocketing toward history, SpaceX gears up for first crewed launch

Wednesday’s launch is not simply the return of Americans going to space from U.S. soil. We’re also witnessing a new era in private space flight, and an inspiring testament to the continuity of scientific progress.

David
SpaceX/AP
NASA astronaut Robert Behnken poses in his spacesuit at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. On May 27, 2020, he and Douglas Hurley are scheduled to board a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and, equipment and weather permitting, shoot into space.

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For the first time, two astronauts are set to climb aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and rocket off into space. If all goes well with the mission, scheduled for this week, it will be the first time humans have launched into orbital space from U.S. soil since NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. 

As many grand endeavors were being canceled or postponed due to the novel coronavirus, NASA weighed the risks but ultimately decided to go ahead, with caution. The mission aims to lay the groundwork for the next era in human spaceflight: one in which space travel isn’t just for government astronauts or scientists, but more like air travel today, with trips operated by private companies available to anyone who purchases a ticket. And such an expansion, say spaceflight advocates, would move humans toward perhaps becoming a multiplanetary species.

“It’s an important inflection point,” says Sean O’Keefe, who led NASA during the George W. Bush administration. “This is much akin to the transition when the first civil aviation aircraft took off decades ago after many decades of it being exclusively a public endeavor.”

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3. Rocketing toward history, SpaceX gears up for first crewed launch

Editor's note: Since publication NASA and SpaceX postponed the launch and rescheduled for Saturday.

While most earthly attention has been on the pandemic over the past few months, NASA and SpaceX have been taking steps toward what could be the next great leap for humankind. 

Two astronauts are set to blast off from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday, May 27, as a final test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. If the mission is successful, it will be a big moment for the American space program – both private and governmental. It will be SpaceX’s first launch with a crew on board, and the first time humans have launched into orbital space from U.S. soil since NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. Since then, American astronauts have traveled to the International Space Station aboard Russian spacecraft.

This week’s launch aims to lay the groundwork for the next era in human spaceflight: one in which space travel isn’t just for government astronauts or scientists, but more like air travel today, with trips operated by private companies available to anyone who purchases a ticket. And such an expansion, say spaceflight advocates, would nudge humans toward perhaps becoming a multiplanetary species.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

As many grand endeavors were being canceled or postponed due to the novel coronavirus, NASA weighed the risks but ultimately decided to go ahead, with caution. The pandemic has raised questions about what aspects of modern society we value – and human spaceflight is no different. 

“The last thing we want to do is shut down everything that is aspirational and inspiring in our society while so many of us have to hunker down,” says Greg Autry, who researches commercial spaceflight at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. 

Balancing risks and rewards

If all goes according to plan, the so-called Demo-2 mission will carry two veteran NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, to the International Space Station. The pair is set to join the current ISS crew of three – one American astronaut, and two Russian cosmonauts – and will probably stay for a month to four months. Their return will also be a significant test for the Crew Dragon spacecraft, as reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere is a fiery affair.

SpaceX/AP
This illustration made available by SpaceX depicts the company's Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket during the uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test for NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

This endeavor has been in the works for years, and under normal circumstances such a milestone launch would generate large crowds on nearby Florida beaches. Given the pandemic, NASA has asked that people stay away, and instead experience the launch virtually

As for the team making the final preparations for the launch, as many as possible have been working from home and the others have been masked and arranged to stay 6 feet away from one another. NASA typically quarantines astronauts in the days before they fly to the ISS, but this time they’ve been isolating for weeks. 

NASA’s decision to go ahead with the launch amidst early pandemic lockdowns initially surprised Lori Garver, who served as deputy administrator of NASA during the Obama administration. But, she says, as it became clear that the pandemic was something that society was going to be grappling with for a long time, she began to think, “Well, when are we going to be able to do it?” After all, the ISS needs a crew to continue operating. The Russians were still blasting off, but NASA had been aiming to scale back on buying seats on their Soyuz capsules.

Indeed, the U.S. presence on the ISS is seen as essential, agrees William Russell, who oversees audits of space programs for the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

As a nation, we have invested billions of dollars into the space station and committed to maintaining projects designed to support that program. “It is something that NASA has prioritized,” Mr. Russell says. “If you think back to the government shutdown, this program maintained operations during that, too.”

This test launch aims to kick off NASA’s new commercial crew program, in which private companies (Boeing is also developing a crew capsule) become the space agency’s ferry service. If successful, this program would not only bring down the cost of delivering U.S. astronauts to the ISS, it would also make it possible for the spaceflight companies to sell trips to space to other sorts of travelers in the future.

“It’s an important inflection point, if you will, of now seeing the opportunity for commercial transportation of humans into space,” says Sean O’Keefe, who served as administrator of NASA under former President George W. Bush and is now a professor at Syracuse University. “This is much akin to the transition when the first civil aviation aircraft took off decades ago after many decades of it being exclusively a public endeavor.”

This launch, Mr. O’Keefe says, is a significant step toward making space travel as ubiquitous as air travel is today. “In the greater scheme of things,” he says, “this continues the march of the kinds of things that we do as humankind to access space.”

The allure of human spaceflight

Many of NASA’s exploration and research goals can be achieved using robotic spacecraft today – and much of it is, says Roger Launius, a former chief historian of NASA and author of several books on spaceflight. So, he says, “The larger question has to be asked, why is it important to do it at all? Why do we need to send people up there at all? ... It is not an easy answer.”

There have been many different reasons for nations – particularly the United States – to pursue human spaceflight capabilities over the years. Initially, one big motivation was to display technological prowess and assert itself on the global stage outside of war. Because human spaceflight is an extremely difficult feat, it continues to hold such regard, says Mr. Launius, and regaining that capability also will mean retaining that prestige.

But, many say, there’s also something less tangible driving humanity’s desire to push into the final frontier. 

Indeed, if this new model of making space travel commercial is successful and eventually nonastronauts and nonscientists do travel to space more readily, it could mean a fundamental shift in humanity. Our species would have expanded into a vast new territory in a more permanent way. 

“I would contend that ultimately this is about becoming a multiplanetary species,” capable of moving between worlds readily, says Mr. Launius. It will likely take generations, “but the sooner we get started, the sooner we can actually achieve this.”

For some, this is about expanding future possibilities for humanity. “If we stay here on Earth, we’re going to play a limited resource game, and we’re going to pollute the environment and we’re going to utilize what resources we have and we’re going to fight over them,” Dr. Autry says. “When you open up a new frontier, you create vast new wealth.”

But it also might go deeper than that, suggests Mr. O’Keefe, pointing out that Homo sapiens is the only species known to have expanded across the entire globe and settled into the many diverse (terrestrial) environments on Earth.

“We’ve explored large swaths of this planet in order to advance, to improve, to expand, to do better,” he says. “This is yielding to that same instinct that has been kind of ground into human nature.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

In Chicago’s Little Village, federal aid begins to flow. Is it enough?

Our next story offers a snapshot of minority-run businesses in one neighborhood: how some are creatively surviving, and how much the second round of paycheck protection funds are helping.

David

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In immigrant and minority neighborhoods, business owners often don’t have the know-how or connections to apply for the federal government’s emergency loans to small firms. And in the $349 billion first round of the Paycheck Protection Program, bigger companies and less needy areas snapped up most of the money. But in the PPP’s $310 billion second round, a concerted effort by a local Chicago credit union secured loans for some of the hundreds of restaurants, taquerías, hair salons, dollar stores, and other companies that cram this roughly 3-square-mile neighborhood known as Little Village.

The money is helping to sustain the local Nuevo Leon restaurant, a nonprofit community development organization, and a funeral home, among others, while they struggle to survive the pandemic’s economic squeeze. 

Will this onetime infusion be enough to ensure their survival? Laura Gutierrez, owner of the Nuevo Leon, is not optimistic. Rudy Medina, president of Second Federal, part of a Federal Credit Union, puts it this way: “This was a breather for a lot of businesses, a good breather. But it’s not enough.”

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4. In Chicago’s Little Village, federal aid begins to flow. Is it enough?

It’s afternoon at Nuevo Leon, a popular restaurant in the once bustling immigrant neighborhood of Little Village, a roughly 3-square-mile slice of Chicago’s West Side. Now the room is empty, the furniture pushed to one side. The owner, Laura Gutierrez, sits alone at a small table where she takes the orders that trickle in each day over the phone. 

“Sure, my love,” she says, “What would you like? The cold dinner? Anything else?”

Her surface cheer conceals a deeper gloom. The coronavirus and its economic pain have fallen hard upon Little Village, where many of its hundreds of businesses – restaurants, cafés, taquerias, hair salons, dollar stores, travel agencies, groceries, jewelers, dress boutiques, roofing companies, and more – are either closed or hardly working. Sales at Nuevo Leon, which has been filling carry-out orders since March, have reached barely 5% of what they once were. 

Yet there’s one consolation: Federal emergency loans have finally arrived at Nuevo Leon and many other businesses across Little Village, offering at least a temporary reprieve from financial disaster. The question now facing these small businesses is whether that federal lifeline will be enough to see them through until they’re allowed to reopen. That was Friday, May 29, for Illinois barbershops, salons, offices and manufacturers; no sooner than late June for restaurants and bars.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

“This was a breather for a lot of businesses,” says Rudy Medina, president of Second Federal, a part of the Self-Help Federal Credit Union, which was active in getting Little Village businesses to sign up for the federal aid. “A good breather. But it’s not enough.”

Blanca Soto, head of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, says she hopes that the entrepreneurial spirit of the immigrants of Little Village will help see them through their current troubles. “That’s where the strength is,” she says. Ms. Gutierrez is more pessimistic. “I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. A new rule that will allow Illinois restaurants to serve guests in outdoor seating beginning next Friday won’t help her restaurant, she says: There’s no room on the sidewalk.

For the smallest businesses, especially those in minority neighborhoods and other underserved areas, federal help has been slow in coming. Money from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) first became available in early April, offering businesses with fewer than 500 employees eight weeks of payroll and other expenses. The aim was to encourage them to retain workers. But most of the $349 billion didn’t go to the areas that needed it most, according to an analysis by Business Insider. Instead, it was quickly snatched up by larger businesses with established relationships with big banks. In less than two weeks the money was gone.

“The big institutions just took care of their own,” says Jaime di Paulo, head of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “We noticed that a lot of the small businesses were left out.”

Others saw the same thing happening in Chatham, an African American neighborhood a few miles from Little Village. “There was a lot of panic, a lot of questions, a lot of uncertainties,” says Pattilyn Beals, interim director of the Chatham Business Association. “I think a lot of businesses expected to get something. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.”

Richard Mertens
Maria Sotelo, owner of the cafe Kafecita, says she was not able to get a federal PPP loan. She poses behind plexiglass and alongside her one employee, Carolina Malagon, in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, May 11, 2020.

In Little Village, many business owners didn’t even know about the program. Other were simply skeptical of borrowing money and didn’t understand that the loans would turn into grants if spent mostly on payroll. So when Congress funded a second round of business loans last month, worth $310 billion, Mr. Medina’s Second Federal redoubled its outreach. After securing about 300 loans in the first round, it nearly doubled that amount in the first two weeks of the second round.

Ms. Gutierrez of Nuevo Leon didn’t apply at first. “I didn’t think I could get one,” she says. But with Second Federal’s help she got her check quickly, in the middle of April.

“This means I’m going to be able to pay my employees and my utilities,” she says. She has cut back hours and reduced her staff from 15 full-time workers to seven part-timers. They have learned to cook in smaller batches. There was a small crisis when the closure of meat packing plants drove up meat prices and she wrestled with whether to raise her prices. 

“How far can you go?” she asks. “If I’m going to increase it, there are fewer people who are going to eat, or going to do pickup.” In the end, she didn’t increase prices. “We are nothing without our community,” she adds.

Not everyone qualifies

PPP loans have helped nonprofits, too. Telpochcalli Community Education Project, a tiny community development organization in Little Village, received $12,000. “It means peace of mind,” says Maria Velazquez, Telpochcalli’s director. “It means I can concentrate on what I’m doing now, how we can support families.”

The group helps families survive the pandemic, many of them poor and undocumented, helping them get food and diapers from local donors, pay rent, and receive health care. Some needs still can’t be met.  A single mother with five children came down with COVID-19, and only a relative was willing to help the mother out, a few hours a day. “How can we help her? We still don’t have a plan for that,” says Ms. Velazquez.

Not everyone has been able to get a loan. On 26th Street, the heart of Little Village, Maria Sotelo runs a small cafe that sells sandwiches and waffles but is best known for its natural fruit drinks. Before COVID-19, the cafe took in $600 to $800 a day, selling to shoppers who crowded the street. Now the sidewalks are empty and she brings in only $100 to $200. She’s had to cut the hours of the young woman who is her only employee from eight hours a day to just three or four.

Ms. Sotelo applied for a $6,000 loan and was turned down – twice. She doesn’t know why. She’ll stay open as long as she can. “I have to keep it open every day so I can at least pay my rent,” she says. “I still haven’t paid my taxes. There’s no money for taxes.”

Lots of business, less profit

Even businesses in high demand are facing new challenges. The Martinez Funeral Home, for instance, has plenty of clients right now. But the problem is that increasingly, funeral rituals have been curtailed or abandoned, reducing the income of those who stage and direct them. For example, more and more families have been choosing cremation over burial, says owner Manuel Martinez.

“People are afraid,” he says. Instead of long wakes, the funeral home now holds only short afternoon visitations, with no more than 10 people at a time. Funeral services have been suspended. “The revenue is half of what it would be even though I’m doing more volume,” Mr. Martinez says.

The challenges for Mr. Martinez go well beyond finances. He has tried to find ways to honor the dead and comfort the grieving at a time when many traditions are impossible and extended families can't be together or hug one another.

The PPP has been a lifeline for him and his six employees – three full time, three part time. He says he received $49,000 in a PPP loan and needed it. “It helped tremendously,” he says. “I could pay everybody [and] not have to let anyone go.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Difference-maker

Drivers of change

How one monk’s ‘inner evolution’ fuels social justice work

When someone takes a risk to help others, what motivates him? We spoke to a Hindu monk and social activist who says his work to stop bonded labor and religious intolerance has been inspired by his own spiritual transformation. 

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As a young teacher in Kolkata, Swami Agnivesh was critical of his Jesuit co-workers.

Yet his views shifted as he came to appreciate their simple way of life. “I asked myself what my mission was and realized I had none,” he recalls. “So I decided, even though I am not a missionary, I must have a mission.”

He decided to become a Hindu monk. In the decades since, he has also made a name for himself as a politician and activist, whose spirituality and social work are deeply intertwined. 

“The real seekers were the prophets, not priests,” Mr. Agnivesh says, perched on a hard, rustic cot in a room empty apart from the bare essentials – the cot, some towels, a few identical saffron robes, a chair, and a table strewn with books. “The priest is a follower and the prophet is a rebel and revolutionary.”

Much of his work has involved fighting modern-day slavery in India. He has also become known – and sometimes come under attack – for his campaigns for interfaith tolerance, at a time when many fear it is on the decline in India. But tolerance within a faith, his advocacy underscores, is just as important as tolerance between them.

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5. How one monk’s ‘inner evolution’ fuels social justice work

This past November, in a small hamlet in the Indian state of Haryana, several dozen activists from around the country gathered to discuss how to achieve world peace.

The state of affairs was looking grim, with populist movements fanning out across democracies. And in India too, the largest minority group, Muslims, was being demonized by a rising Hindu right.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the activists called their meeting – the ancient Sanskrit adage meaning “the world is one family.”

The group was convened by Swami Agnivesh, a Hindu monk clothed head-to-toe in saffron, who is also a renowned social activist. At 80, the swami (meaning one who has control over the “self”) is a truly eclectic figure – clothed and steeped in tradition, yet defiant of it in many ways.

“The real seekers were the prophets, not priests,” Mr. Agnivesh tells me, perched on a hard, rustic cot in a room empty apart from the bare essentials – the cot, some towels, a few identical saffron robes, a chair, and a table strewn with books. There is no air conditioning for the sweltering hot months, no heat or hot water for the cold months that sweep through northern India.

“The priest is a follower and the prophet is a rebel and revolutionary,” Mr. Agnivesh continues. “That’s what attracted me to this path – the prophet and the revolutionary character.”

Over the years, Mr. Agnivesh has been many things: an anti-corruption activist, a prisoner, and a politician. He’s negotiated with Maoist rebels, campaigned against sex-selective abortion, and headed the World Council of Arya Samaj, a Hindu reformist movement. But he’s best known for his work for interfaith tolerance, and his organization Bandhua Mukti Morcha (BMM), or the Bonded Labour Liberation Front.

Nearly 8 million people are thought to live in modern slavery in India today, according to the Global Slavery Index. Bonded labor has been outlawed for decades, but the practice persists in industries like brick kilns, quarries, and carpet factories. Many victims are children, and lower-caste Hindus, whose families are trapped by debt. Through BMM, Mr. Agnivesh and fellow activists say they have released more than 200,000 workers and helped to rehabilitate them. Three times, he has served as chair of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

A personal journey

The monk’s spiritual life feeds his political and social rebellion – each one a long process of transformation.

Born Vepa Shyam Rao into an upper-caste Brahmin family from southern India, Mr. Agnivesh grew up following traditional Hindu rituals. While attending college in Kolkata, he discovered the Arya Samaj movement, which emphasizes the ancient Vedas, the oldest scriptures in Hinduism, over later traditions. It “was all very universal, very transformative,” he recalls.

Soumya Shankar
Mr. Agnivesh, who works for religious tolerance, pauses during an event for activists.

What he calls his “inner evolution” continued as he taught at Kolkata’s St. Xavier’s College, where he worked alongside Jesuits. “I was very critical of Christian missionaries. I’d accuse them of trying to convert our poor tribal people and try to instigate a Christian state here,” he says. Yet his views shifted as he got a glimpse of their simple way of life: “A small bed. Minimal eating.”

“These people worked here in the dust and pollution, whereas I was wondering if I should leave this country and lead a good comfortable life in the U.S.? No!” Mr. Agnivesh says. “I asked myself what my mission was and realized I had none. So I decided, even though I am not a missionary, I must have a mission.” This was the moment, Mr. Agnivesh recalls, that he decided to become a monk.

Yet he also made a name for himself in Haryana’s politics, and was even jailed – along with much of the opposition – by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the two-year “Emergency” in the 1970s, remembered for its civil liberties abuses. Afterward, he was elected to the state legislature and became minister for education. But he soon quit and threw himself full time into freeing bonded workers, founding the BMM in 1981.

Much of his activism has focused on tolerance, at a time when there is fear both inside and outside India that religious freedom is diminishing sharply, particularly for Muslims. In May, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom designated India a country “of particular concern,” noting “government action ... created a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities.” For years, Mr. Agnivesh has led efforts to defuse tension after Hindu-Muslim clashes, and denounce leadership he considers responsible for failing to halt attacks – including that of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But tolerance within a faith, his advocacy underscores, is just as important as tolerance between them. For decades, he has led campaigns to change practices within Hindu culture that he sees as unequal toward women or Dalits, the people lowest in the caste hierarchy, such as his effort to secure the entry of so-called untouchables into Hindu temples. 

What next?

As much as Mr. Agnivesh’s career is multifaceted, his lifestyle is simple. The monk does not own property and has little money in the bank. Yet he has inspired social workers and activists of all ilks in India. Manohar Manav, a local activist from the state of Bihar, spent 10 years as the swami’s pupil. Also born into an upper-caste family, Mr. Manav says he was compelled to drop his last name – a signifier of one’s caste – after hearing the swami speak. He adopted the caste-agnostic title Manav, which literally means “human.”

“When a person rises from religion towards spirituality, he situates himself in a bigger striving,” says Mr. Manav, who is now director of the BMM. “Then there is no Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, or Christian. This vision was given to me by Swamiji.”

Frequently, the monk has come under attack from a resurgent right-wing Hindu nationalist movement, opposed to his criticisms of what he considers “dogmatic” practices – and his visible work on Hindu-Muslim solidarity, at a time when many gurus seem to endorse the ruling party’s “Hindutva” ideology. In 2018, as he was working with marginalized communities in the eastern state of Jharkhand, groups affiliated with the ruling party protested against him, and a mob assaulted him, hitting him until he fell into a lump on the ground. The assailants accused him of being sympathetic to Christian missionaries and proselytizing to local tribes.

But fear is not a factor for the monk, he says. “I am a threat because I am showing them a mirror,” he says. “I am telling them that the religion or gods of Hinduism that you are talking about is not this; you are perverting and corrupting it. You are bringing shame on Hinduism.”

Eventually, he shares the concern that bites him the most.

“Sometimes, I feel, who will take my work forward? I am not completely sure about that,” he says. So, should he have designated a successor? “No, I have seen that no prophet’s children have truly taken their work forward. No one has.”

This article was produced with the support of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, the John Templeton Foundation and Templeton Religion Trust. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

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The nuts and bolts of integrity in the US election

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The pandemic’s disruption of campaign activity in the U.S. has further sharpened the partisan tenor of the coming election. The once-normal and healthy encounters between candidates and voters, played out in passion and poignancy, humor and gaffes, have given way to exaggerated barbs on social media and in political advertising.

Beneath all that, the coronavirus crisis has underscored the resilience of many democracies at a time when the ideal of self-government appears to be faltering around the world.

A report published by Cambridge University, based on surveys from 1973 to the present, found that popular dissatisfaction with democracy had reached a global high by the start of 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and the contrasting reactions by governments have accentuated the same factors that affect how people view democracy. The Cambridge report found high public satisfaction with political institutions that are transparent, responsive, and free of corruption during a period of shock.

Even without the usual rituals of campaigning, the 2020 election in the U.S. still provides an essential opportunity to affirm the tools that strengthen American democracy and heal a public health crisis.

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The nuts and bolts of integrity in the US election

The warm weather of an election year has arrived in the United States without the usual pageantry of democracy. Bus tours, rallies, and rope lines are all on hold. The party nominating conventions are in doubt. That may be welcome news to some. Opinion polls in recent years have shown that two-thirds of voters think elections last far too long. The first candidate entered the current presidential race 1,194 days before Election Day – twice as early as the first candidate four years ago. In Japan, campaigns are limited by law to 12 days.

The pandemic’s disruption of normal campaign activity has further sharpened the partisan tenor of the contest. It also has raised concerns about the integrity of the November ballot. The once-normal and healthy encounters between candidates and voters, played out in passion and poignancy, humor and gaffes, have given way to exaggerated barbs on social media and in political advertising. The prospect of mail-in voting has divided Republicans and Democrats in Washington even as some governors from both parties embrace it.

Beneath all that, the coronavirus crisis has underscored the resilience of many democracies at a time when the ideal of self-government appears to be faltering around the world.

A report published by Cambridge University in January, based on 3,500 country surveys from 1973 to the present, found that popular dissatisfaction with democracy had reached a global high by the start of 2020, particularly in developed democracies. Then the pandemic hit, and the contrasting reactions by governments have accentuated the same factors that affect how people view democracy. The Cambridge report found high public satisfaction with political institutions that are transparent, responsive, and free of corruption during a period of shock.

In Europe, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands stand out. The list extends to most Asian democracies, which saw strong public confidence in how government responded to COVID-19. Such countries met the pandemic with institutional capacity, science, transparency, and compassion. The key factor, writes scholar Francis Fukuyama in The Atlantic, is “whether citizens trust their leaders, and whether those leaders preside over a competent and effective state.”

That lesson should not be lost in the U.S. during an election campaign shaped by the challenge of COVID-19. A recent Pew survey found nearly 3 out of 4 voters feel that low trust in government – and in one another – makes it harder to solve urgent public problems.

Even without the usual rituals of campaigning, the 2020 election still provides an essential opportunity to affirm the tools that strengthen American democracy and heal a public health crisis. How the election is held may be as important as who wins.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

God cares for all of us

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Especially in light of efforts to contain the coronavirus through physical distancing, it can seem that we’re being cut off from means of support and comfort. But as one woman found during a time of uncertainty about her future, we can always turn to God for comfort and guidance that light the way forward.

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1. God cares for all of us

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I love that the Monitor Daily so often celebrates victories in the introduction. Like the one in the April 17 edition that tells about a woman whose house burned to inhabitability when it caught fire during preparation for a Passover meal. But by that evening, her friends had an apartment and food for her, and she continued with a virtual Passover meal for friends and family across the country even in the midst of her own needs.

Evidence of the kind of caring expressed by this woman and her friends is so encouraging, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, when it can seem that we’re being cut off from familiar means of comfort and support.

Over the years, my prayer and study of the Bible-based teachings of Christian Science have strengthened my awareness of God as the source we can always depend on for comfort and support. My understanding and experience has grown of God as our divine Father and Mother, protecting and nurturing all of us as dearly loved children. This care and uplift is inexhaustible, and it’s the divine right of everyone, in every moment, to feel it.

This truth is voiced so simply, using everyday images, by Christ Jesus, whose every healing thought and act was animated by his perfect clarity of God’s supreme guardianship of creation. For instance: “Five sparrows are sold for just two pennies, but God doesn’t forget a one of them. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid!” (Luke 12:6, 7, Contemporary English Version). This says so much about the inestimable worth of each of us and the courage we can take from this.

I experienced this years ago when, in my mid-20s, I moved a couple thousand miles away to another part of the country. When I look back at that year, I am still in awe as to how God not only took care of me day by day but also showed me more about the real meaning of caring.

During that time, which was filled with uncertainty about my future, I prayed to grasp that, as the Bible puts it, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). In other words, God, Spirit, who is all good, made me (and everyone) spiritual and complete in His likeness. Our true, spiritual identity already includes all that is worthy, useful, and purposeful – all that is good. God’s plan – divine Love’s plan – leaves no one out. It unfolds more and more of what is beneficial for His creation.

As I affirmed in my prayers this divine design of all-powerful good that holds each of us uniquely treasured, anxious thoughts lessened. I saw they did not come from God and were never a part of God’s plan, the only true reality for me or anyone else.

Every page of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science and founder of this news organization, is filled with the benevolence of infinite Love that Mrs. Eddy perceived through Bible study and divine revelation. In one instance she wrote, “Spirit, God, gathers unformed thoughts into their proper channels, and unfolds these thoughts, even as He opens the petals of a holy purpose in order that the purpose may appear” (p. 506).

Although the circumstances often suggested I was separated from good, the Christ – described in Science and Health as “the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness” (p. 332) – was telling me something different. Taking to heart the Christly message of God’s love for me removed worry and empowered me to discern and more selflessly take productive, inspired steps forward.

For instance, over that year, kind and supportive friends both new and old let me live with them, and I was able to help and give back to these really caring people. At the end of that year, work opportunities opened up for me in ways I never could have mapped out. They gave me an authentic sense of purpose and enabled me to serve others in a particular capacity for many years.

How simple yet powerful is God’s deep love for each of us! Recognizing and accepting this universal love can empower us profoundly. Prayerful listening for God’s messages of love and guidance, which are present under all circumstances, brings a comforting serenity and an assuring guiding light that meets the need, even in the most difficult times.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all the Monitor’s coronavirus coverage is free, including articles from this column. There’s also a special free section of JSH-Online.com on a healing response to the global pandemic. There is no paywall for any of this coverage.

Viewfinder

Back to school

Loren Elliott/Reuters
Children return to Homebush West Public School in Sydney May 25, 2020 for the first day back for New South Wales public schools. Some 86% of students were in class the first day schools reopened after a two-month shutdown to battle the coronavirus. Australia, with a low death toll of just over 100 people, has been lauded for its handling of the pandemic.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’re working on an inspiring story about a sidewalk tenor in Seattle. 

Here’s a window on some of the faster-moving headline news that we’re following. 

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