“Coronavirus could force the world into an unprecedented depression.” “Air pollution falls by unprecedented levels in major global cities during coronavirus lockdowns.” “Unprecedented nationwide blood studies seek to track U.S. coronavirus spread.” “Scientists learning about coronavirus at unprecedented speed.” “Coronavirus has sparked an unprecedented level of philanthropy.” “Industry faces unprecedented uncertainty due to coronavirus pandemic.” “Coronavirus is totally unprecedented.” “Coronavirus symptoms include unprecedented use of ‘unprecedented.’”
Okay, I made that last one up, but you get the idea. Even if “unprecedented” is overused, the novel coronavirus, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the containment and mitigation measures put in place to check the spread of the disease have been extraordinarily disruptive, destroying lives, upending livelihoods, and clouding the future with uncertainty.
Among the many casualties of these current risks and future uncertainties is sure-footed conviction about our vocations. Why would we continue to invest time and attention in the same things that captured our imaginations before the pandemic? Where does our work fit into questions about the future of the global economy, the possibility of environmental integrity, the pace of scientific discovery, or the scale of global charitable giving? How can our own sense of calling withstand such massively scaled issues? We may wonder whether our work will be interrupted by forces beyond our control, whether it will matter (if a book is published in a pandemic and Amazon cannot ship it immediately, did it even happen?), and whether it is even potentially unworthy of our time, given the present exigencies.