BY JOE POTTS
So this is how it ends…all of the hopes and beliefs, from long ago, are just that, hopes and beliefs clipped together without fanfare, without sound, without any glow, there is just silence. The silence is everywhere it is nowhere. There are no moments without the silence. There is no past nor is there a future. There is only Now.
-George Harrison, the Quiet Beatle
During the time that I shall call “the time of the plague,” we, as a society, began to splinter apart. Some of us believed that we would be saved if we followed the rules, both separate and apart. We masked ourselves in our everyday lives. We wanted conversation, asking for something simple from a stranger—or worse, an acquaintance, a friend, a lover would do! Others of our kind laughed at the rules, the precautions, the courtesies and suddenly we were in the time of the plague. Statistics became, grimly, the common denominator. I realize that statistics can be, in the words of Mark Twain or maybe Benjamin Disraeli, evidence for a lie or a damnable lie. Counting deaths was not like counting cards. There are no second shuffles with statistics.
When the story came out of China about three winters ago, hardly anyone who was not a scientist dismissed it as just another tale from a Chinese research lab. Wuhan City was a center for research and a development center for the science of immunology and influenza research. The small news story was noticed as another “Asian flu.” A few weeks later, reports of deaths began to filter in on the second and third pages of newspapers. Donald Trump, the former president of the United States, dismissed the flu story by his “three day” diagnosis, and then it would be gone. But there was the problem of increasing hospital cases and mounting numbers of deaths. The CDC called the state of affairs involving the now-called “coronavirus”, or COVID-19, a pandemic. The United States and growing numbers of European and Asian countries began research for treatments for this pandemic. Masking and creating interpersonal zones around ourselves became our protocols. Our leaders suggested using “lock downs” and reducing gatherings both public and private. Finally, a vaccine was created and the citizens of the United States of America became champions of their rights to choose medical care or not. I can only recall the national campaign against polio in the 1950s. When Jonas Salk introduced the vaccine offered to the public to deal with the polio pandemic, doctors offices, health clinics and emergency rooms were stormed by seekers of the vaccine that would, eventually, almost wipe out the polio pandemic. The polio “shot” was a part of growing up. No patriotism there, just plain good sense!
We have now spent almost three years confronting each other about whether we want to avoid being sick or not. We argue that we are a republic, that is, a people that choose its method of governance by agreeing on its form. We call it democracy. I will not quote Winston Churchill on democracy being the best form of governance, because all others have failed in one way or another. We can hark back to the model of early colonial New England. All Men, how chauvinistic and misogynistic, were equals. When discussing issues, every man, meeting as a town, would be heard. Each attending man’s point of view or opinion was of value. Your issue was discussed, and your skill as a citizen presenting your issue or point of view was adopted on an equal footing as opposing arguments. I would attend my annual town meeting, which usually took place just after the spring planting. Growing season would give points of view the luxury of time to work themselves out! We have come to no conclusions about the needs of our society regarding public health or public education, and we may soon be in a discussion to define our human relationships and rights as citizens. All of this, we believe, will finally settle to bring about a “normalcy” that we long for.
The major changes in our very lives begins with the efforts to overcome and prevent the spread of more and more rigorous viruses that have carved up our daily lives. School children have been forced to homeschool. This has not only affected younger students, but colleges and trade schools have also “gone remote.” The effects of this are now being reviewed by educators who have concluded that the process of home education is almost a total failure. Children have missed the focus of education, that is, to learn life skills. The maturing of young minds and attitudes depend on these skills. It is not enough to learn how to read and communicate through writing and verbalizing. You must use these skills. The adult workplace has seen the “work at home” concept becoming a syndrome of not going through the travel to work part of one’s day. Workers are just plain refusing to go to their places of work. Uninteresting jobs requiring minimal skills are not being filled—even though the minimum wage for these jobs has risen 30 percent to 50 percent over previous rates. Employers, and especially single-owner businesses, have rearranged work hours or shift times. Downtown business areas have been depopulated, as workers now work remotely. Other factors such as supply line shortages, brought about from the lack of truck drivers and skilled warehouse workers, are contributing to marketplace dissonances. And the continuing shout that our political system is failing or worse, jigged to fail, has created a public debate of “who do you trust”? Not in my lifetime has such nonsense and outright disbelief pitted us against ourselves. And for what end?
Mental health professionals—physicians, therapists, caregivers, academics—have estimated that about 35 percent of Americans are taking therapeutic drugs of some sort or other, have been in therapy or are currently in counseling, or are waiting to explore their private worlds. It is probably safe to assume that our major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston or the metropolitan regions of the East and West coasts have clinics and clinicians eager to accommodate those willing to face their concerns. Renewed interest in the processes of analysis may be one of the outcomes through the control of the plague. Other contributors to our return to normalcy may be found in the renewed efforts by our leadership to provide genuine help and relief to those in need. And, to be truthful, we are gradually beginning to understand what are rights—a belief that race should never influence decision making, respect is more than a lyric to a song, and that religion presents a framework to build that house of sheltering comfort. Taking these principles in turn, respect and rights are what hold a nation together. By respecting one another, there may be disagreement, but I understand your side because we have accepted that we each have a guaranteed right that frees us to stand face to face and disagree. We will not be violated over our disagreement. We understand that we differ and will try to convince each other otherwise.
The meaning of race is now undergoing a trial of its own. In the public arena, race has become a lit fuse of sorts. The nonsensical debate concerning “Critical Race Theory”—which would throw a blanket over our physical differences and promote communities of inequality—creates disrespect. The withholding of equality and the suspicion of the ‘other’, based upon the given and granted rights, must be foremost in our society. Issues such as abortion, educational opportunity and the right to worship a spiritual higher being must not be a consideration. And of course, being willing to offer small or large mercies to those of our kind and to our environment. Finally, will we ever be in a place of normalcy again. We will have to decide what and where that is.
It will not be easy! We must decide for ourselves this question. And if we decide on our answer we must, at all times, review and maybe recalculate our answers. In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln clearly states his understanding of the issue:
“with malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see…”
Let us take Lincoln at his word and move on as he did.