Hello from Strawberry Street,
We made the decision to get closer to Baltimore for a Wednesday departure and yet, try to enjoy Anton’s last couple of days. It was almost like being in the twilight zone as we drove through metropolitan areas and saw no cars across 8 lanes of traffic for miles at a time. With more than enough food and snacks in the car, except for one gas stop, we made it to Mayberry on the Eastern Shore. We will distance easily here because it is off season and most everything is closed. Some of the regular haunts allow you to phone and they will bring it to the door or deliver. Yet, those who know me, know I am more than content to cook at home and play in the kitchen. After I get him to the airport, I will return to this little quiet place for a bit.
As we battle the reality of something we supposedly had a good handle on, it is evident that we are not as prepared as we hoped. This is not about who did or did not do something, it is the reality of covid-19. To hear from one of our more credible national voices this morning as he predicts the possibility of 200,000 (his current high estimate) deaths from this is beyond frightening (Reuters, 29 Mar 2020). The death toll doubled in two days, now more than 2,300. So what do we have? Where do we stand? Certainly, it appears the bureaucracy snafu of accessing national stockpiles is a problem. Certainly, it appears that our National Government is actually bidding against the very states they argue should take the lead on treatment for equipment. Certainly, it appears there are difficulties in coordinating a national strategy, so spokespeople at every level are increasingly struggling to answer questions about treatment and safety. Finally, the reality of numbers is simple. We have the most reported cases in the world and predictions of being in the millions with deaths in the 100s of thousands will more than match any pandemic movie out there. However, this is no movie.
Some, from high school friends to relatives, have questioned the appropriateness of my posting, questioning, and arguing some of what is occurring on a daily basis. I respect their feelings, and even when their logic seems a bit difficult for me to wrap my own head around, I will still listen, but as has been my way from childhood, I will question the why. What do we have at this unpredictable time? We have our incredibly, significant Constitutional ability to speak and question. That is the role of both the Fourth Estate and the citizenry, and I think it is most apropos when what happens affects the very human existence of those same citizens (and unfortunately, that is not hyperbole at the moment). Many of my friends, as well as acquaintances and family, ask why I always question and why I find the need to find logic in everything. Even during the past couple weeks, people have asked if I really get upset at things. I do get upset; I get passionate; and I am much more sensitive than many would imagine. I know very well why I am throwing myself into both my classes and into the national corona debate. It helps me manage the other changes in my life currently.
The struggle between States Rights (Anti-Federalists) and the Federalists shaped the Constitutional Convention, and even though there was ultimately a vote, the question has really never been settled. We continually try to implement what we understood and how changing contexts and situations require reconsideration. This pandemic and our response or debate is nothing new. We can look at the Spanish Flu epidemic, but President Wilson had a very hand-off practice, and in fact, he did not speak to the country once (Analysis, NYT 28 Mar 2020). Of course, he was also managing the end of WWI, so there was a difference. I also think we were a very different citizenry at that point. I am not sure there was, at least to the degree, a typical schizophrenic public that wants everything from their government, but does not want to pay for it. I know that statement is a tough one, and one that will raise some red flags, but that is how I see our general national personality today. Suffice it to say, I could put together quite a montage to support this assertion. One the other hand, when we have a global crisis (and that is what I believe corona is), the appropriate level of response is our Federal Government. As I noted in a recent blog, at least in terms of focusing a national conversation, a decade ago, the National Institutes of Health made this very argument. This is why effective communication and a clear strategy is of such importance. National communication, especially now, is about comfort; it is about allaying public fear; it is to shore up the concerns of a diverse public over an expansive space, providing a sense of security in insecure times. Creating a sense of singularity of purpose needs to come from the Chief Executive(s). It is not by accident that I included the S parenthetically. I can be convinced that some governors are not making the President’s position enviable. Conversely, I am pretty sure that stream flows both ways to use the President’s inference, whether that is conjecture or not. The virus is not attacking states based on their political color; it’s attacking states. From Louisiana to California, from Pennsylvania to Kansas, there is no rhyme nor reason for the indiscriminate corona reaper’s process. We know how it spreads and as such can try to minimize it. I think there is a difference between what the Government does and how the President sees “their versus his” role in all of this. Perhaps that is where the rub is. Perhaps the second rub is how he has at times threatened Federal intervention (e.g. Chicago violence, homelessness in California, individual military justice cases), which certainly oversteps the sort of Anti-Federalist approach he has taken in a much more profoundly federal situation. However, until we come up with a uniform process, I am not sure we will win this fight, but rather by the time we get to a place of comfort the national cost in terms of life, dollars, and national identity will suffer irreparable damage.
So for me, outside of my debating on social media, sometime to the consternation of those around me, what can I do as an individual? I am working to manage my own work the best I can. In fact, getting all of this off my chest at the moment will help me focus the remainder of the day. Second, because I have everything I need (at least for a week or so), I can stay home, and if I go out of the house, I can walk around and social distance as much as possible. I can make sure I do things to reach out to people who matter and let them know their importance, even when I cannot see them. In the last two days I have heard from some incredibly influential people in my life. Those things are so profound to me. It reminds me in a way that touches my own soul about the blessings so many have been to me. Denny (Denise) Blake, a dear friend from my first summer and first year in seminary, called yesterday. What a gift. I saw a picture yesterday, the daughter of one of my most influential students when I was at University of Wisconsin-Stout. The resemblance to her mother was so undeniable you would think Tayler is the reincarnation of her mother. Rachana, my Nepali student,and one of my most joyful continued student connections from Wisconsin and I have spent time during the last few days on FB messenger. One of my childhood friends, now a resident of South Dakota, a person admired beyond words throughout our school years, has been in touch over the last months and it has been so wonderful. Today, the first person I honestly feel in love with reached out and showed concern, as did another childhood friend. That is what we have. We have community and if we are willing to hang on to it, we can overcome anything. I believe this. It is not idealism; it making the most of the life I have in the circumstances I am. I know I am blessed. How I take the time to reach out, either back or beyond is what I can do to make this time more meaningful.
What I am finding is that I am actually enjoying the process of managing my classes, helping Anton deal with his reality, working with my students, and, of course, playing in my kitchen. I believe in many ways I am taking better care of myself more intentionally and carefully than usual. Of course, that might be a welcome and necessary side consequence of all of this. Well, I think it is time to get back to other tasks. I do hope you as students are safe and managing this craziness that is the second-half of your semester. To my friends from throughout my life-time, thank you for your calls, your texts, your messages. They have buoyed my emotions more than I can adequately express. To Ana, to Nadia, Julia, and Vasyl, to Anna, Katarzyna, Adriana, Annamaria, Dominika, Beata, Mikołaj, Sylwia, Andrzej, Justyna, and Maja, to Elena, to Ciarán, I hope you are all well and safe. I think of and value each of you for the goodness, brilliance, and joy you have brought to my life.
I wish you all peace and comfort; bless each of you.