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I have tried many times to write another piece about what is happening in America today only to fail in delivering anything remotely cogent or meaningful. I keep trying to analyze it all in an effort to make peace with the insanity, death and destruction that I witness. Anything short of that has left me feeling helpless, struggling to accept the utter devastation that is occurring right in front of our faces.

BABEL

Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion, albeit temporary, there’s no sense to be made of what is occurring right now. Like the mythic Tower of Babel that God strikes down, forcing different languages on humanity, so too have we been struck incomprehensible to one another. Given this failure to communicate, it is the emotional and ultimately spiritual space that is the most appropriate place for my heart to reside.

Lately I’ve been re-reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, a phenomenal depiction of humankind’s struggle to plumb the depths of one’s soul to survive extraordinary circumstances. While the current Pandemic and decimation of American society and political institutions can’t be compared to the Holocaust in any literal way, there are parallels to its “helpless/hopeless” effects on our psyches, as well as promise on how to endure it all with less damage.

PROVISIONAL EXISTENCE OF UNKNOWN LIMIT

It has become quite trendy in recent years to meditate, to practice living in the now, worthy practices to slow the mind and energy systems from the frenetic pace of modern life. A tension presents itself of course when one resumes daily activities that focus instead on some measure of future: Goals, activities, deadlines, etc. Without some aspect of ‘later’ or an endpoint, even if it’s a simple future orientation such as what to have for dinner, we are hard pressed to stay only in the now indefinitely.

With the pandemic we have lost a recognizable endpoint, a goal or destination of it being over, with a return to life as we have known it. In the Holocaust, prisoners lost all reference to the future or any endpoint. Similarly, though monumentally far from being as degrading as concentration camps, pandemic populations know not when any recognizable endpoint will occur. There’s always the tease of one, yet the infections rage on. Further, the chaotic and degraded democratic institutions and structure in America at this time makes nothing reliable. Nothing.

MAROONED 

Added to this dynamic is the disconnection of physical presence with others—particularly painful for pack animals such as humans. We know we are not alone yet feel alone regardless. Besides this psychic chasm, we struggle with an altered concept of time. Purpose for and faith in some goal or intention, has to be reimagined. Is it even possible for humans to not strive for something? And in what timeframe? Without these instruments from which to steer by, life seems rudderless and a kind of moroseness or depression sets in.

Frankl’s wife, imagining, remembering her without even knowing whether she was alive or dead in another camp became his salvation, at least in part. But it was more than her. It was the field of Love in which she resided that he cultivated access, to make it through the days, through the smallest and largest degradations of daily survival. A different perspective, a deeper one, was identified on which to focus, a new horizon from a different vantage point on which to set one’s eye.

A COMPASS

A few years ago I had the astonishingly good fortune to meet and work with Bennet Mermel on his memoir, an extraordinary man who survived the Holocaust himself. I witnessed first hand the field of Love—the goal or drive to help his younger brother, Kalvin, to stay alive as well. By trying to save Kalvin’s physical life, Bennet also helped save his own. It was a symbiosis that fueled surviving a horrific “now”, driven by suffering yet with a dignity that defied comprehensive description.

Yet there was still depression. Besides staggering constant physical exhaustion, depression was the emotional current that constantly served as undertow, threatening to suck him under due to death and degradation that was pervasive in the camps. Had Bennet not had Loves’ compass for his brother to steer by, he may never have made it. The magnet was challenged constantly by the sheer magnitude of a sense of no end in sight. Still, it was the engine that kept him going.

THE EXAMPLE 

I was very heartened by the fact that Michelle Obama and Michael Phelps have recently addressed the problem of depression and mental health issues consequent to the pandemic and the breakdown in our society. In many ways a sorrow for loss is the most appropriate response. Like losing a limb, one cannot help but feel sad for the absence of the thing itself, but more importantly for the value and use that predictability and hope heretofore provided to one’s life.

To share that sorrow with a wider audience is huge. It feels personal, intimate, communicating we are not alone in what we witness and feel. It recognizes our shared humanity and binds us together, exhausting out grief to arrive at the other side. Ultimately, we are left to acknowledge it, to discover our own compass and help others find theirs if at all possible. For while we may not perceive an endpoint to the pandemic, let alone imagine how to rebuild America, life continues and is made better in the process. On the other side of grief is an acceptance that facilitates a language all its own: a non-Babel speak that connects us all.

Rosalie Cushman is the author of several books, The Man Confused By God and Vibrating At The Speed Of Love. They are available on Amazon and at fine bookstores everywhere.

The Man Confused By God https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733802320/ref=cm_sw_r_em_tai_wAyoFbRKCWEQT

Vibrating at the Speed of Love https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733802304/ref=cm_sw_r_em_tai_3ByoFbX6ER6QT

What be this thing called hope, this state? To wander back-and-forth between hopelessness and hopefulness, why at times it feels as crazy as the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland. It is amazing how it seems to swing so slowly for a period. Yet at others, it lurches uncontrollably in staccato fashion between the two states. 

THE NATURE OF LIGHT

We sit confined, in a prism of our making. Yes, that’s the correct word: prism. Besides the traditional definitions of refractive light, the case I make for the word thusly is, “prisms can be made from any material that is transparent to the wavelengths for which they are designed…prisms can be used to reflect light, or to split light into components with different polarizations.” These latest words depict a state of both a claiming and rejection of elements of ourselves, as well as the implied polarization that is its consequence.

We will not always be home-bound. At some point we will be set free to roam the social gathering places, like gazelles to a watering hole but will not feel the same. For many, it may pale in comparison to the interior depths of ourselves we have plumbed during confinement, finding solace and comfort in a more authentic manner with those we hold most dear, including our own hearts. 

THE TEMPORARY IS JUST THAT

For others, being let loose will provide only temporary thrills, acknowledging a lack of appetite for the shallow and trite, intoxicating though it may be for a time. Somehow freedom to wing-spread will undergo a new definition, an acknowledgment of sorts. Given enough lack of interior sustenance they will begin to miss what began in their heretofore home-bound state, that unnamed itch for growth that has been awakened.

There will be those that carry on as if nothing has altered their perception of the world (and those in it), behaving like drunken sailors and raucous wenches, repressing the recent sting of social isolation, only to behave as before. Yet a seed will have been planted for future enlightenment, ripening once they have germinated long enough, whether in this lifetime or the next. 

ITERATIONS

Regardless, many things will be redefined, restructured and changed, for a quality left to the living will capture enough people’s imaginations to speak it, to live it differently. The “it” is that intangible and beneficent regard for others that acknowledges the depths of connections we all share as a species, regardless of malvescence by some, dependent on heroism by others. Those that have harmed the herd will endure accounting of it, there is no doubt. But with any luck, the subtle change in the refracted light of our better selves will triumph with enough heat and pressure of the current moment. 

And it is this process, the evolution of us as individuals and groups, having come out the other side to a new order of things that hope births. I see glimmers of it already: in nurses, doctors, deliverers of goods and services, in some public servants, and in the ordinary of us carrying on, socially isolating not just for ourselves but for the good of the whole. We KNOW inherently these acts are “in the service for more than us, they are for others too.”

THE PENDULUM SWINGS

Many will not be able to see this change but more folks likely will than not. Of that I am confident, hopeful even, regardless of the human, political and social “infection” we will have survived. Or because of it? While it may not be loud, there will be evidence. There already is in fact, in that subtle shifts are visible in the compassion shown by some media leaders, medical individuals interviewed, common neighborhood helpers and many ordinary people. The angry ones, the bitter and noisy gong people, critical and venomous will pale in comparison.

Not all moments seem to call for hope. There are times that call for despair, and we will have experienced the state far too often during this pandemic. Yet despair can be temporary at best, ultimately fostering hope from which emerges a slow but sturdy light refracted from the prism. After all, we do know why the caged bird sings.

AND SO MUST WE

And so we stand on the edge of sorrow and joy, despair and hope with the intuition that there will be better days, better angels and greater things to come. 

For we are not just refracted light. We are reflected light as well, created from a nature that in the end claims us all. Whether one believes in the divine or not, nature has its way with life, always continuing onward. Groaning though we may be in the current morass, hope is greater than even itself for it reflects something more. Out of it springs a faith in things unseen, of the promise by and for the living; for life ongoing forever after.

 It is hard to make sense of things in the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially when there’s no sense to be had. I’m not talking about all the instructions coming out from the CDC, Trump’s undermining of certain medical measures, and minimizing others, pitting constituencies against one another. Get a test, don’t get a test, etc. Open the markets, don’t open the markets ad infinitum.

Even in the best of times, let alone the worst of times, a new disease let loose on the population can certainly create their own contradictions when so much is unknown about the spread of it, how to contain it best. It is particularly challenging, however, when we have a president who has decimated certain aspects of critical governmental infrastructure ever since obtaining office.

THE DEEPER FISHERS

I don’t wanna talk about those. There will be time to do a postmortem after so much of the risk has passed. In the meantime, we are all challenged in the face of social distance, isolation, to reevaluate not just the bigger picture along with the key players. Just as importantly I suggest we look at our individual selves AND the aggregate of the same. It is an opportunity to go in. Not just to relieve anxiety, although that is true enough. But to really take stock of who we are, what we want, how we ferociously judge, what we value, and to look at what and how we want to be going forward.

Is there not a great possibility to consider the other person, to practice compassion and forgiveness even with those we can’t stand, not to let them off the hook for we can illuminate accountability later on. That has to happen. But just as importantly if not more so, we need to get micro as well as macro, to look at our own role and dare I say, responsibility to our neighbors as to ourselves. I know not everyone has the capacity to take this kind of self inventory, but those of us who can would be better served to examine ourselves and the society at large by taking a steely-eyed look at what we value and why. Who do those values hurt sometimes and who do they help, besides our own self-interest.

DELAYING GRATIFICATION 

We are a very spoiled nation in so many ways. What’s more, very few know it. How is it that too many grumble, unable to comprehend the concept “for the good of the whole.” When my son was in college and there just happened to be for the millionth time a flare up of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians he started a film treatment about God making both sides have a time out, effectively isolating them to opposite corners until they could think through the folly of their behavior, their untenable positionalities. 

I likened his idea in certain ways to Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life film where Brooks’ character has to defend himself in the afterlife for being driven by fear, afraid to really love, afraid to look at the other. In his case it was fear of loving a woman, fearing a risk of rejection, an ultimate loss of himself in some way. As a collective, our American fear is about losing things, money, our precious comforts, possessions, status, power, whatever externals that too often drive us apart instead of together. 

LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

And now, through the pandemic we all are on the brink of possible redemption juxtaposed with destruction. Do we have the courage to take stock of our values and the fear that drives too many of us apart heretofore isolating from one another in other ways, suckling our precious opinions, greed, judgments, attachments to things or belief systems as our identity. The metaphor writ large NOW is being forced to isolate physically so as not to contaminate one another. Can we not see that we have been isolating ourselves by class, fear of otherness, fear of not keeping up, fear of losing power or influence—the list is endless but still all driven by fear. What a golden opportunity we have now to examine ourselves and what we truly value and exercise compassion and sacrifice. There are great examples in truckers, nurses, doctors, cleaners but they are not the end of it. We are called to make our own.

And so we continually stand on the precipice waiting for a collective aha moment. Otherwise, we will continue to repeat the same lesson through catastrophes such as this or others we can’t even imagine be they physical, financial, societal, political, whatever, until such time as we come to understand how we have created such incredible comfort and privilege – – even those of us in the middle class – – that this is just that: a privilege. But it is more than that. It is a responsibility. And to deny the least among us out of fear we might lose something at the expense of truly loving our brothers, our fellow countrymen, why, we’ll just keep having to repeat “4th grade” lessons of caring compassion, EQUITY, etc until we ultimately learn and live it. 

ON THE EDGE

Bizarrely, we have the choice right in front of us reflected in two “characters” that represent these options: the grotesque distortion of greed, deceit, and self-absorption in our current President on the one hand, and a compassionate scientist in Dr Fauci, looking out for the good of the whole on the other. One defends his “30 pieces of silver” like Judas while the other defends his love of life itself for the true good of all and asks us to do the same via social distancing. What will we do with this golden opportunity of a “time out”. Can we stand the individual discomfort for the good of the whole? We will all have to decide, for this problem runs far deeper than the current pandemic and will only resurface again and again until we truly move past the isolation of too many hearts and minds that exist in this country today.

I don’t know how I feel about the recent article below and its position. It strikes me as a chicken and egg debate and therefore a bit fatuous, intellectually self-serving. So many things have broken down in our culture, and institutions seem symptomatic of that. As highly educated elites, and let’s face it that is what we are—well educated, ponderous, separated in so many ways from those who aren’t—I think we also have to look at ourselves and our own self absorption, our own precious positions that we cling to. We are those institutions—we are them and they are us.

America has gotten so big, so unwieldy, so degraded on so many levels and not just institutions, I don’t know how we change our perspectives. Sometimes rot and decay take on lives of their own. Can this very large ship be turned around, chart a new course? Is anyone reading this article willing to change and volunteer or go work for any of these structures?? Not a criticism; just a question we owe ourselves to consider.

I have no answers, no recommendations other than taking a steely eye turned inward to examine our own participation or lack thereof. What does it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves? What is the difference between equality and equity? They are not the same. Equity is providing resources, financial as well as modeling behaviors/examples to those who are deprived, and provide them with what they need to sustain and flourish their lives. Equality assumes that everybody has to have the same $10 no matter what. It’s absurd.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Joan Dideon is her talent to hold a mirror to my generation, our generation. I miss her voice. We have been as selfish and self-absorbed as what came before ours. We also inherited highly virtuous qualities and values as well: hard-working, commitment to community to some degree, a reasonable sense of right and wrong. How we apply these positives has to be recontextualized, however, which is the rub. 

Obviously not everyone has the same talents, expertise, aptitude or abilities. Yet can’t we all see we needn’t not “self-segregate” from those we perceive as having less, or who are not like us? If we have no courage to be the change, that is what our institutions will mirror back. Helen Keller’s quote springs to mind at this time in our national crisis:

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” 

If we are not dead there is likely something all of us can do as individuals to “be the change.” It is our charge to figure out what that is, large or small. After all, if we have lost faith in our institutions like the title of the Op-Ed below suggests, that also implies we have lost faith in ourselves. Yet only we can regain that faith. It is high time we held ourselves accountable as well.

To access article below, press graphic to select link using touch screen or right click with mouse.