Resiliency

I read the Camus’ novel, ‘The Plague,’ when I was in high school – that’s nearly 50 years ago, but it stuck with me. I often reference it when I feel things getting out of hand, paraphrasing one of its lead characters who pleaded with the populace of the Algerian city where he was quarantined to, ‘at the very least, not make things worse.’

I never thought it would have such direct relevance: it was written, I believe, as an allegory about the spread of fascism. But perhaps we are facing two kinds of infestation at this moment: one in regards to a diabolical but real microbe, and the other a more insidious and potentially more dangerous cultural disease.

There are moments in every day when I see the positive: the affirmation of community represented by selfless acts, humor in the face of boredom, the diligence of our essential workers, the recognition that we need to expand our definition of ‘essential’ to most if not all of those who toil daily to provide us with some semblance of normalcy.

In the past week, however, I have seen indications that are our transition back to that normalcy may be a more nauseating road to travel than the roller coaster we traveled to get here, indications that instead of preparing to venture out into the community with a new sense of connection many people are choosing this moment to dig deeper and deeper foxholes (no pun intended.)

With the exception of those who have been directly impacted by the virus, who have suffered through its symptoms or lost loved ones and the like, I would assert that most of us have not been harshly treated by this microbe. Our parents who lived through the depression or endured the bloodshed and deprivation of World War Two or those who lived in the shadow of the World Trade Center or soon after 9/11 found themselves on a mountain plateau in Afghanistan or fighting house to house in Iraq – those people truly suffered.

Most of us, I believe, have only been inconvenienced. We will not only survive but if we just hold on and practice – as the Camus quote suggests – common decency, we will soon forget the worst of this pandemic as we go about our lives.

If.

If we practice common decency, that’s all.

But if we do not. If we rage against these inconveniences, disregard the concerns of the many, demean the fears of our neighbors and, instead of friendly faces, search for scapegoats then, regardless of the death toll, the virus will have done us irreparable harm.

I have, of course, my own critique of the way that we, as a nation, have handled this challenge to date. I believe that the only truly effective limitations are those we impose upon ourselves but, I understand as well, that we are often called upon to lower the tone and volume of our individual voices so that the community can find harmony.

This is, I believe, just such a moment. We can retain our skepticism, or acknowledge our fears, and at the same time join hands – figuratively speaking – and walk forward. Or we can contribute to the further erosion of our civic principles.

Covid-19 is testing the capacity of our systems and science and, even more so, the resilience of our beliefs.

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