“Today the flu season is an inconvenience for most of us. It will be a death sentence for some. Some day the stakes may be higher when a pandemic stalks the public spaces.”
We wrote that in December of last year, and we’ve had similar discussions here several times over the years. It was an easy prediction, like saying the stock market will crash. Eventually you’re going to be right. But here we are, not only stalked by a virus we don’t fully understand, but by fear and human nature that we understand all too well.
This isn’t the first pandemic we’ve faced. HIV is an ongoing problem. The Hong Kong Flu killed one million people in 1968. The Asian Flu killed 2 million in 1956 through 1958. The Spanish Flu killed between 20 and 50 million in 1918. History offers us a perspective that can have a sobering influence.
However, we are breaking new ground with Covid 19. It isn’t flu. It’s a brand new bug and we don’t have centuries of herd immunity built into our immune systems to help us fight it. We don’t fully understand how the virus spreads. We know it can stay airborne for up to 3 hours, like the flu. We know it can survive on stainless steel and plastic for days. There is no vaccine or cure, and we can only guess how this situation will unfold.
We’re not here to go over the same ground that has been well traveled over the last few weeks. There has been little else in the news or on social media. What we’re here to talk about is the lessons we can take away from all this, and if the crisis ended tomorrow, there would already be important ones.
We’ll start with the crisis of trust that has been so evident during the last several weeks. While schools, nursing homes and public venues close all around us, as people are infected and quarantined and the death toll mounts, there are still those who scoff and say that this is some kind of hoax or conspiracy.
One can almost…almost understand the mistrust. It’s the boy who cried wolf. It’s a government, a cadre of corporate media, a capital full of corrupt and immature politicians who have lied so often and for so long that when they do tell us the truth, we still doubt it.
Worse still, we’re losing the ability to discern truth, to sift the facts and weigh differing opinions and with logic and reasoning, discover the truth for ourselves.
I don’t know the solution, but education must be part of it, and I don’t mean education in terms of testing or grades, but a philosophy of education that teaches reasoning and discernment and imparts tools for a lifetime of continued learning.
The problem is that education is paralyzed by politics. Science is paralyzed by politics. Everything from climate to health is measured, not by facts, but by political affiliation. Politics has infected everything it touches, and the disease vectors are corporate and social media.
The second takeaway in this crisis so far is the crisis in citizenship. Have you tried to buy toilet paper lately? Bottled water? Canned tomatoes? These and other items have disappeared from shelves across the country. “I got mine,” and the next person is on their own. Unfortunately the next person can’t afford to hoard. The next person is on a fixed income or lives paycheck to paycheck, and when that check comes in on Friday, there’s no bread on the shelves because you and your neighbor bought a dozen loaves “just in case.”
The next few weeks are going to be difficult for some of us. Not for everyone. Some of us have been “social distancing” for a long time. We prefer small groups of family and friends and long walks outdoors, on the mountain or by the lake. We enjoy the stillness of the morning and the last song of the birds as the sun goes behind the mountain. That’s why we moved here in the first place.
But we have become the exceptions. Americans are not programmed to be comfortable in their own head space. We are conditioned for perpetual stimulus and distraction and consumption. We have to keep moving. We have to be entertained. We have to shop. With the stunning natural beauty of this land all around us, how many will make an unneeded trip to the grocery store and have a meal out because “there’s nothing else to do?” This is the person who goes to the movies when they’re sneezing with a cold because being home is “driving me crazy.”
The next few weeks holds an opportunity for that person, because selfish behavior now can risk someone’s life like few times in our history. This is an opportunity to quiet that incessantly programmed internal dialogue, the hallmark of our addiction to distraction and consumption. This is an opportunity to develop some spiritual muscle. We are well trained in how to do, but we have forgotten how to be.
Is it not telling of our current state that when faced with a crisis, instead of turning to our faith, to God, to our neighbors and our community, we put our faith in toilet paper and bottled water?
This crisis will pass. There is already evidence that hot weather and humidity can slow or halt the spread of the virus. If that’s true, we here in the South have got it licked. But in the meantime, let’s take advantage of this opportunity to disconnect from the normal distractions, to spend some quality time with our families, and though we can’t visit them right now, don’t forget to call that family member confined to the nursing home. Social distancing is hardest on them.
There is a pathway through this time of trouble. To scoff and to panic are both equally wrong. The way through is to exercise due caution and to stay informed without becoming infected by the marketing of panic that always accompanies breaking news. Stay safe out there, and take advantage of this opportunity for self reflection.