District Governor News – 13

DG Jimmy – Covid-19 Message. March 2020

OK folks, I stole and altered the message below and the leaflet too from another source ‘Erskine Rotary’ (I need someone to make it a ‘word doc’) so that I can alter the leaflet as well. It’s time to come clean and wash your hands regularly, also don’t touch your face or mouth, etc.. after cleaning, or you will have to start again, to reduce the covid-19 effects.

As I watch the news when the virus took hold in China, then in Italy and in other places. I saw it unfolding towards us. I thought this is an opportunity to grow Rotary. ‘Service above self’ in our community, is what we do.

Recently, one of our Rotarians in district shared a post in Facebook: “What will happen to Rotary, will it be dead after the virus has come and gone?” I thought he has missed the obvious point. But then I thought, he was actually being prophetic and asking precisely the right question—before I even knew there was a question to be asked. (Alex is a past DG; he was doing what past DG’s do so well: keeping Rotary honest and real about the world.)

So, coming late to the game with this, I’m now asking myself that very question. What will Rotary be like after life returns to “normal”?

It’s early days now and, as is being said over and over, this is a marathon, not a sprint. But I still see some signs which lead me to a hypothesis: I think this time in the life of our local Rotary is going to turn our community involvement and leadership on its head.

What do I mean by this? And what leads me to this hypothesis?

In the early days of 1905, we know Rotary came alive at the local level. It grew and improvised on a day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis, figuring out “on the fly” how to create and sustain a local community program, when gathering to plan and serve was not always possible. Rotary today, is bubbling with activity and creativity: live-streaming, daily messages of good news and charitable work, virtual meetings on zoom, et.el., sharing of resources and “how to” videos. We also see growth in mutual care and concern. The phone is making a comeback as the most direct and personal way to check in with those who feel the isolation most keenly. “Zoom” is, all of a sudden, a word that has become commonplace as groups of people figure out how to meet. Virtual coffee hours are being planned and volunteers abound ready to pick up groceries and messages for those who cannot safely expose themselves to public places.

Before the virus arrived, Rotarians in the West of Scotland Rotary – District 1230, had become focused on 2020 as the doomsday year—the time when the ‘Rotary International Board’ would turn out the lights. We looked up to our leadership to tell us what this would mean for our future and to give us hope and inspiration. We looked up for the casting of a new vision which would save us. We looked to careful, methodical strategic planning exercises which would, in time, provide just the right five strategic priorities for the future. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with any of these things. But my hunch is that this virus and the new world which is thrust upon us each day, may just pre-empt such top-down approaches in favour of a new and revitalized Rotary which is simply taking shape from the ground up before our eyes.

It may just be that when something we are used to and take for granted is taken away, we feel its absence more acutely and that is when we discover in new and powerful ways that the connections of mutual support and care that we find in community are essential to our spiritual, physical and emotional well-being. For these connections, we look not up but down to the grassroots to discover who we are and who we will become.

This time of isolation, unexpected and unprecedented as it is, comes during a time when our Rotary had already become isolated and marginalized within society. The prior meeting for lunch and golf is over but, until now, we still had all the outward and visible signs of that era: the landscape, Rotary in every community and the complete freedom to meet and eat, when and how we pleased. Many have gone now and for some time to come, we won’t have those freedoms, our Rotary meetings mostly locked tight and banned. Perhaps this is a time for us that hearkens back to the early Rotary aims, in which small communities began to do random acts of kindness, tentatively, often in secret, often invisible to the society around them. Perhaps this is a time for us to see in a new way the reality of faithful Rotarians in our day who must exercise their service in secret, behind closed doors.

Rotary was built from just four men, from the ground up. They planned and rotated their meetings and survived while doing good quietly. And now, in this moment, it seems already clear that Rotary will survive, and will renew and sustain itself, from the ground up. By our communities discovering through necessity who and what they will be, without the ability to gather. By smaller groups within communities, establishing new norms of mutual care, new ways of working together, new ways of sustaining the life and spirit, of those in the community.

Does this mean we are going to become isolated? With every community, doing its own thing apart from others? Not at all – In fact the sharing of resources, ideas and creativity among clubs and Rotarians is already flourishing. A new sense of collegiality is being nurtured. Rotary leaders locally, have taken responsibility, as they need to, for setting overall policies and protocols to keep people safe and healthy, and they will need to play a vital role in honing financial plans which adapt to the economic challenges created by this virus to ensure that the Rotary resources are directed where they need to be at this time of crisis. We aren’t becoming ‘protestors’, but I do believe that this time is breathing new life into the Rotarian community on the ground, at the local level. At the end of the day—and as it has always been—from where else could the renewal of Rotary come?

No one knows how long we will live in this world of isolation and improvisation. But when life returns to normal (or, more likely, the “new normal”), maybe we will look toward 2050 not with fear or despair, but rather with both optimism and realism. Perhaps we will be a Rotary reformed yet again by circumstances beyond our control—but also with a renewed and even deeper awareness that ‘we are who we are’ in a community with those who care about us and whom we care about (even if we don’t always get along). When that time comes—when the pain and fear and loss have passed—we may also find ourselves in a deeper community in Rotary, to be present where life is the most intimate and the most real.

DG Jimmy

Copied and paraphrased from a facebook article by The Rev. Canon David Harrison, Toronto, Canada.