When I was a boy, I remember a playground leader, a bully of sorts, throwing sand in my face. It stung my eyes. It made me feel powerless, angry, and afraid. It made me feel small. But I’ll allow the benefit of the doubt to that bully of my past, just as I will the present-day makers of callous remarks and actions during our pandemic predicament. Like all bullies, they are likely expressing their fear through lashing out with controlling behaviors. But like the playground tormentors of the past, when fear overpowers rational thought and compassion, it becomes a dangerous, insidious threat. It must be called out and challenged.
Last week I was angry; as angry as I’ve been since this all started. It was not because of something said or done by a neighbor or even leader of the free world (as per usual), but by a callous remark made by a Lt. Governor in a state I don’t even live in. It soon exploded into a string of people supporting that assertion; basically, that people should go back to work and chance getting the virus for the good of the economy. (I should know better than to read the comment threads on posts by now…). In a veiled attempt to hide their fears under the rallying cry of “save the Republic,” they calculate the economy as worthier than individual lives. For some reason, I found this insistence, expressed as an infringement of Constitutional and capitalist rights, more annoying that the idiots participating in reprehensible, dangerous, and unlawful behavior (posted online with the hashtag #coronaviruschallenge). But both provoke my ire for many of the same reasons.
“If they would rather die they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Charles Dickens wrote the above words (in A Christmas Carol), but these insensitive challengers paraphrased it to shocking effect last week. Beware friends: There are still those among us who would decide our fate for us.
What was proposed — basically that we end the social distancing and business restrictions and ask all Americans, especially those most at risk, to take their chances for good of the economy and younger generations — was akin to considering a handful of sand expendable. The economy trumps lives; therefore, no lives matter.
I wish these people no ill will. They have the right to express their opinion. I do hope, however, that they pay the price if they’ve broken the law (e.g. those coronavirus challengers/Darwin award nominees/Florida pastors who hold services, etc.). I support their right to free speech, including the right to express unsavory ideas. These people used the platforms afforded them by society and position in our social order. Some, like the Lt. Governor of Texas, a state official, is a leader by default. In times like these, he gets a bigger platform. Now please allow me to take my, somewhat smaller, soapbox.
The planet is burning. The suggestion that we throw a handful of sand into the bonfire would produce the expected results. Nothing of consequence except lost sand.
People are like sand. Let’s remember that sand is special, individually and collectively. Sand is composed of pieces and particles of organisms, past and present. It is an imprint of a vast ecosystem that forms a foundation for a self-perpetuating ecology all its own. Now, there’s a metaphor worth considering as we stroll down the beach; appropriately socially-distanced, of course.
William Blake said it much better, and more succinctly than I:
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
Blake’s poetic metaphor provides us an opportunity. What if we were to consider each person as non-expendable? What if we honor each grain of sand as part of the ecosystem of our collective experience? What if every flower was afforded the worth and dignity of every other? What if every human soul was worth saving, allowed to live a life they were meant to live, taking their part in the ecosystem? What if we are all part of a “symphony of sand” being perpetually composed?
I lean toward these kinds of metaphors; these types of hopes. Too altruistic? Perhaps. I doubt my words will dissuade those who already have decided and judged the fate of others. The misinformed remarks and callous actions of those who are lashing out are nothing more than veiled comments about their own personal fears and the things that initiate them. Certainly, we all are looking to explain away the things that irritate us—that ultimately scare us. We’d rather expel them than find a way to value them in our quest to move forward. But if we accept, rather than reject our abrasive fears, we might yet build something valuable, as an oyster does a pearl. I propose we consider the notion that what vexes us might actually be of practical use for moving forward.
“All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” ~ Federico Fellini
There were many things that irritated us long before this pandemic began, just as there will certainly be afterward. That fact of human behavior is unlikely to change. But if we consider the pandemic itself as an irritant, let us also ponder what can be made from our struggles with them. If age or infirmities are a problem, let us consider how might we address it through compassion. Let us consider what use it could be for us. What pearls might we make? What jewels might we gather from the work of others? What value might we assign the lives of others?
Creative and credible solutions will come from the struggles we face. Let’s allow these grains of sand, a sand dune’s worth of grains, to define our lives. Rather than tossing a handful, or a truckload, away onto a forest fire of unlimited acreage, let’s each develop our own pearls, and combine them with those of others into a treasure trove for the collective good of our era. “Collective good,” meaning everyone is included. Our actions today will determine whether or not we are worth anything later, on (or off) “the half-shell.”
These pearls, like small opaque crystal balls, hold the answers. Let us struggle as necessary to pen and revise our own stories, symphonies, and operas. Together we string together the masterpiece: our collective human destiny.
Pandemic Copyright, 3-31-2020, Robert Baldwin