I have not written a single non-work-related word for nearly two months.
Not for lack of interest or inspiration, mind you.
In fact, I have fought the urge to write a poem that has been swimming lazy laps around my brain for a couple of weeks. It is highly critical of God and the current Oval Office Occupant, and I didn’t want to offend those friends who believe in either or both, all whom I otherwise admire and respect.
I have struggled to stay above the strife (or at least not add to it) as the entire world deals with the fallout – physical, emotional, spiritual, financial – of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, it’s been a difficult time, concrete-hard, for me as for many.
I felt like the undersized, but quick-cutting football team running back who has finally broken through the line, zigging this way, zagging that way, hips twisting, knees high, legs pumping, evading linebackers twice my size.
The goal line was in sight. The winning touchdown and all the attendant glory only yards away, nothing ahead of me but screaming fans.
I was blindsided and tackled by an unseen cornerback. No touchdown. No winning score. No glory. Only pain, turf and stars.
As I lay on the ground, the officials kept their yellow flags in their pockets as every defensive player on the field and, it seemed, a few from the sidelines piled on.
I struggled with sleep-stealing financial concerns for my two daughters and their families; not seeing our granddaughter for more than six weeks; my own blues from lack of socialization with friends and family; the murky, bottomless depths of uncertainty about and concern for the future.
Then it got worse.
Every jaw-droppingly stupid utterance from Donald Trump, a man with a narcissistic need to be in the spotlight. Blammo!
Every one of his gob-smacking, forehead-slapping denials of a comment despite video proof of their utterance. Pow!
Every ridiculous bit of his “cheerleading” to try to ignore and deflect and minimize the seriousness of the situation. Smash to the kisser!
Each of his childish fights picked with other leaders who dare to cross his constantly shifting, arbitrary political line in the sand. Gut punch!
Each of his attempts to blame everyone else, anyone else, for seventy days of misdirection, lies, obfuscation and political gamesmanship, while thousands died from a mystery virus. Another shot to the ribs.
(By the way, how many shades of cynical or paranoid does one have to be to suggest, much less think, that this pandemic is a political scheme or hoax?)
And worst of all, his calls to “Liberate” states, prompting people to take part in armed protests of his own administration’s health directives intended to keep people from dying. Proving yet again that he was most concerned with how he looked to his rabid cult — and even then, only when the stock market started to tumble. Because those are his only real priorities: money, and image. Especially his money, and his image.
Each one felt like another cleated foot on my throat. Another body jumping on my back, pinning me to the ground.
I was so anxious, so overwhelmed, so conflicted, that I literally could not catch my breath under the crushing weight of fear, confusion, frustration, anger and lack of human decency.
Then, I read a recent issue of Time magazine.
The special subject, “Finding Hope,” featured article after story after essay from writers, doctors, elected officials, religious leaders and social and cultural icons, each promoting a simple, essential premise:
We cannot recover from this pandemic alone.
We must work together as individuals, families, communities, professions, governments, faith systems, public and private sectors.
We must believe that we will return to “normal” – whatever that will look like – only when we share responsibility for each other, rather than thinking only about our singular interest.
Yes, it will be hard.
Yes, it will be painful
Yes, many will suffer financially, emotionally, psychically, spiritually.
And yes, many will die. Maybe, with any luck, not as many as various models and experts have predicted. But more than any rational person would dare call acceptable if any one of the suffering or dead belonged to them.
Interestingly, not one writer took or demanded credit for any idea, development, or policy (much less petulantly whined about not getting enough praise.) Not. One.
For the record, I do not hold Trump responsible for the pandemic. That’s silly. However, I do hold him responsible for his own actions, the same as I’d do with any adult or child.
His self-centered, “I! I! I! Me! Me! Me!” behavior is stultifying. It is such a shallow, pathetic, transparent cry for legitimacy in a world in which even he knows he doesn’t belong, that one might pity him under normal circumstances.
But nothing is normal these days, and his behavior affects the rest of us.
Trump’s callous, callow, even cruel example followed only too gladly by his minions has made a tremendously difficult situation exponentially worse.
Simply put, Trump has pitted the One against the Many.
Listen, I don’t pretend to be above self-interest. I want what’s best for me and mine the same as anyone else.
But the Time magazine issue reminded me there’s more than just “Me” to consider.
If “I” is my only focus, my only concern, my only priority, then others suffer.
“I” fuels fear. Anger. Greed. Hatred.
The power of “I” is its ability to divide. And in the darkness of that division to build walls between “Me” and “Them,” defined in any way that helps me keep whatever I think is mine. Race, religion, gender, wealth. Even health.
“We,” on the other hand, calls us to give. Love. Sacrifice. Even suffer.
The power of “We” is the life-sustaining energy that comes from combining whatever little bit I have with someone else’s, so that what we create together is not only more, but also better and stronger.
“We” in its purest essence cares most about Unity. “We” knows that Unity can be hard, but that hardness smooths the rough edges of division. That hardness is often its own best reward.
Of course, it goes without saying that everyone can follow who they want to follow and believe what they want to believe. As Americans, that is our right – even if we are wrong.
What does need to be said though, is that we as humans must be about more than our rights. We must be about our responsibilities, too. Rights are individualistic. Responsibilities are communal.
I am as scared, angry, frustrated, nervous, confused and concerned as anyone else with a functioning head and heart.
Still, right now, in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime worldwide crisis, I choose to believe in “We.” I must. It is the only way I will see clearer, sleep better, breathe easier.
The strength of “We.”
The dream of “We.”
The love of “We.”
Hmm…I guess I didn’t need to write that poem after all.