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 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.