Dr. Christopher E. De Bono is Vice President of Mission, People and Ethics for Providence Health Care (PHC) in Vancouver. A practical theologian, a Clinical and Organizational ethicist, and a certified Spiritual Care chaplain, Christopher earned his BA and PhD at St. Michael’s.
A Novel Ritual for a Novel Virus
In the densely apartment-laden West End of Vancouver where I live, a ritual erupts every night at 7, when for between three and five minutes, people open their windows, go to their balconies, or congregate at a safe distance on the rooftops of their buildings. Why? To make a lot of noise.
Some clap, others shout. Many just bang kitchen pots and pans. Some even bring loudspeakers and drums and beat out a rhythm.
The result, which you might think should be cacophonous, is neither harsh nor discordant, but almost harmonious. I find it strangely comforting. And it has become something I prepare for every night.
But before I decided to become an active participant, I first heard this now-ritual noise-making on my walk home late in the evening. It was early in this crisis. After a long day working in health care to “flatten the curve” and to plan for those who would soon arrive at our hospitals with the novel corona virus, I wearily headed home for some much-needed rest.
As I left the hospital, I found myself surrounded by the noise of this novel ritual that has emerged as a reaction to a novel virus. Immediately I felt deeply happy, more resilient. I felt proud to hear the community acknowledge so many courageous frontline staff in acute and community care, so many researchers seeking solutions, and so many long-term care staff courageously limiting the spread among those individuals most at risk.
As a senior leader at Vancouver’s Providence Health Care, a Catholic health system famously known for its downtown St. Paul’s hospital and its long history of innovative work with marginalized groups, I already felt called to do my best. I also already knew the seriousness this novel virus posed and continues to pose.
So while we—and so many health care and essential care workers across the country—continue to work tirelessly to prepare for the surge, planning for the worst while hoping for the best, I take solace in this noisy and celebratory end-of-day ritual.
As a practical theologian, I am reminded of what I learned during my undergraduate and post-graduate student days at St. Michael’s: Rituals bring comfort. Rituals help us find meaning. Rituals bring connection. Rituals also give us a sense of control, because they are predictable.
Right now, we need all four of these things. This new virus has disrupted our comfort and has destabilized our sense of who we are. It has interrupted our very ability even to be physically close to human beings. It has increased our feelings of helplessness. And so much more. And this is why I am grateful for the creativity, hope and affirmation this new ritual offers.
A novel virus needed a novel ritual.