Tuesday, March 24

This Belongs

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." - Mark Twain

"I don’t care what anyone says. I’m going to my gym. It’s taken me weeks to be able to use the Stairmaster for more than five minutes. You know?" My friend was adamant.

"Well, you and I have got to be really careful not to catch this Coronavirus because we have an underlying medical medical condition. For me, a recent heart attack and for you cancer."

"Oh, that was five years ago and this virus goes for the lungs. I’ll be okay. I’m not going to let fear stop me from living my life. I’m just not."

And, I believe her.

But, what about her nearby family, her neighbors, and those people she runs into over the course of living her life in today’s dangerous and deadly world. She is a courageous and wise person, precious to me and to everyone that knows her. When I heard her words, my first reaction was admiration. I admire her feisty attitude which has carried her through some awful times. It served her well when she battled cancer. I am inspired by her spirit and zest for life. My second, more primal reaction was that I would definitely avoid her for a long while.

Reflecting on this fleeting thought, I realized that she embodies that all-American, maverick persona that is deeply ingrained in our culture: explorer, rebel, pioneer, astronaut. Those tools of manifest destiny always pushing forward as individuals leaving the less adventurous behind to eat their dust. Americans are ruthless world builders, lovers of handshakes and hugs, proponents of the rights of the individual, ignorant of the rights of the collective, and dismissive of sacrificing for the greater good. Today, though, my friend and I awake each morning to a growing crisis and no personal history with which to ensure survival. We haven’t had to think about not surviving because we’ve been fortunate to live in an abundant and healthy world.

Not long after our conversation, I read an editorial in our local paper. The author expressed fear that government is using this pandemic to erode or eliminate individual liberties. He did not beat the anti-government drum too hard and offered good suggestions on how and where to get verifiable information about COVD-19. These nuggets of useful community information are buried under examples of what he considers a pattern of government over-reach in response to crisis. I tried to change my own internal compass from pointing to the fear that government is not doing anything to the rather frivolous worry of the government doing too much. Time has not been kind to this editorial. People are now more afraid of death than losing their right to assembly.

Meanwhile, our feckless leader continues to promote whatever his emotions and bank balance suggests, steering our country straight into the tsunami today and waking up tomorrow from a fever dream suggesting caution or maybe the old tried and true anti-abortion idiocy.  Oh sure, in the minds of the righteous, we all must protect the unborn while suggesting that old people commit mass suicide to save everyone else from economic hardship. Hey, Lt. Govs and Fox News pundits - millions of children are parented by their Grandma and/or Grandpa. The fricking opioid plague  causes many of our senior citizens to sacrifice what little they have and take in their kids and grandkids in need.  In addition, crippling student debt and the cheapskate "service economy" make it so hard for youngsters and families to squeek by without the old folks helping out with cash and loans. That's millions of dollars out of our pockets to keep our families afloat in this tax cutting, safety-net shredding, hypocrisy brought to you by the Republican Party Platform. Skim down to the ultraconservative interpretation of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. It is obvious that these "individual rights" interpretations were crafted on another planet where  everything is homogenized, sparkling white, and non-existent.

Day by day, reports of how Americans are reacting to this growing pandemic continue to astonish and dismay.  Herds of religious fundamentalists swear that this pandemic is signalling the "end times" and quote passages from the Book of Revelation while urging church going and communal prayer - even though experts demand that we protect ourselves by social distancing and hand washing.  These two desperate measures work and any loving god would urge us to do this rather than hold hands and sing hymns while spreading disease. In our small community, one church I know of is using Zoom technology to conduct Sunday services and foster faith based on survival. We change and adapt.

Survival of our species, how we use scarce resources, how we live with the unknown, how we unify and cooperate to keep ourselves and all people alive are primal priorities. In my area of northern Arizona, we have approximately 140,000 people, two hospitals with less than 400 beds, limited medical personnel, and in my town, 38% of the population is 65 years or older. My math skills are shyte, but even I can figure out that many of us oldsters with underlying medical issues are going to die in this pandemic. That’s a bone chilling fear and I need help coping with it.

So. I shelter in place. I explore the ways to cope with the pandemic and all the fear it unleashes. As Tara Brach, psychologist and proponent of Buddhist meditation, explains in her podcast "Facing Pandemic Fears with an Awake Heart (2020-03-18)"  dismissing or pushing fear away is not wise. Fear is an intelligent and lifesaving reaction to imminent danger. It exists to give urgency to problem solving, to fight or flight, to surviving. It belongs in our world, but it does not rule a world that I choose to live in. This virus which mutates and grows teaches us all the necessity of  adapting to change. which may mean trade offs - sacrificing some personal liberties for the greater good. 

We need to be alive to be free. Sounds too basic to even say out loud, but in times like these no one can afford to lose this focus.  Be well and stay strong.