all of the selves we Have ever been
Often at the end of a news day,
I find myself with the urge to weep.
On those days, the world seems so dark, behavior so deplorable.
On one such day, I confided in a friend about my emotions. She reminded me that we have lived through other dark times. I reflected on all of the years of my life. Indeed, we have lived through other dark times. There was the war in Vietnam and battles for civil rights, women’s rights, rights of the disabled. Young people were down on the establishment. A president was impeached for campaign shenanigans. HIV and AIDS, 09/11, Ebola…In the live action drama, the list of things that can go wrong is endless. In the still life of memory, everything turns out okay. It was a better time, we say. We long for the good old days.
But the thing that makes the good old days good, is that they are over.
Done. Finished. Complete. We know how that story ended. We can identify the villains and lay claim to the heroes. All of the story tellers may not have lived happily ever after, but they did live to tell about it. And with time and telling, they developed perspective. Things turned out okay. The worst that was in us fades from memory, while we glorify that which was best. The best that was in us is what stands the test of time. A revisionist history? Perhaps.
The emergence of the coronavirus has us all worried. Right wing, left wing, center, we are all the same in this. The people we normally turn to for answers and for cures are as vulnerable as the rest of us. Uncertainty is the worst of feelings. Do we go left? Go right? Stop or keep marching? We don’t know how this story will end.
Some days it feels as though we have been sucked into a science fiction novel where we are being transported to the dark past. We have visions of the plague. Though we don’t really know what that was like, we imagine the middle ages with bodies piled high on the streets. We forget that in other parts of the world, these types of diseases still ravage communities. We thought we lived in a better zip code, a more advanced time where and when these things don’t happen, but we are forced to face the fact that the world is now all one giant neighborhood. Mother Nature still keeps secrets.
As I watched the news reporting on the coronavirus last evening, I thought about my mother and her brother, Toni. Both survived polio. My mother went on to re-visit her memories of that experience as she aged and struggled with post-polio syndrome.
I try to imagine what a time it was, that period before the polio vaccine--the paralysis, death, disability, the fear that hounded people day and night for years. How the summer months we think of as a time of relaxation became a time of terror for families. Polio was a scourge on every land. Even a president was affected. FDR’s legs were paralyzed. Though he did his best to conceal his use of a wheelchair, it was from a wheel chair that he led us out of the Great Depression and through WWII. In his 1933 inaugural address, FDR was the one who said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
That story concluded with the end of the Great Depression. World War II ended as well. A vaccine was found for polio, and in the process people exhibited ingenuity and generosity. The March of Dimes was founded and went on to do many noble deeds in the world. When we look back, were those good old days?
What should our individual and collective response be in times like these? Will fear reduce us to our worst selves? Will denial bring forth our most careless selves? Can we choose the selves we will become?
History has shown that even through our tears, we are capable of harnessing our fear as fuel. Through calm, thoughtful, and deliberate collective action, extraordinary things can happen. At the end of the news day, when I am inclined to weep, I will try to think, instead, of the good old days.