What are We Talking About?

What are we talking about during this coronavirus? Is it the same thing we’re always talking about, just folded and stuffed into the container of the virus? What I’m asking is, are you riding your normal hobby horse—Trump has the analytical ability of a third grader; Nancy Pelosi doesn’t have the sense God gave a rock; the main stream media is full of crap. Does your voice sound like it always does?

If so, let’s hush. Yes, I’m talking to me, but I’m also talking to you.

If we use the virus to do nothing but confirm what we already know, we will come out the other side unchanged. I have read so many pleas for us to set aside politics during this crisis, to forget our differences, to quit the constant bickering and criticizing, to join hands and pull together, to be Americans first and enemies last. To, in a word, love our neighbors as ourselves.

But this isn’t a kumbaya moment. If we really want to get along, we have to change. Me, you, all of us. We have to quit focusing on our pet peeves or, as we in the American South say, stop complaining about what gets on your last nerve. A crisis is not a moment to twist to our own purposes. We have to quit riding the hobby horse. In fact, we have to get off the horse and break its damn legs.

Richard Rohr calls the transformation that takes place during dark times the “death of the old, small self.” It’s hard to let the old self die because we’ve put a lot of work into building our walls of understanding. We’ve gotten really good at making our arguments against Trump and the lame stream media and the deep state traitors and the do-nothing Congress and and the Republican imbeciles and the Democrat snowflakes. If we give up one brick in our wall—maybe the do-nothing Congress actually did some good with the stimulus package—we’re afraid the whole wall will collapse, and then where will we be?

We don’t have to make these painful, humiliating changes. We can walk the comfortable road and keep talking about the same things we always talk about, blaming the same ol’ bugbears, and those who think like us will cheer us on. Just don’t be surprised when you round up people for your love circle, and the only ones you’re holding hands with are the same ol’ same ol’s.

I hear you drawing a breath to disagree: some causes are vital, essential, they can’t be dropped. Don’t misunderstand me. If you are out in the world advocating for more PPE for healthcare workers or telling those around you to maintain their distance, have at it. The test is: were you telling everyone to get out of your personal space before the virus? Probably not, so you aren’t regurgitating the same opinions retrofitted for the virus conversation. Just don’t let yourself start muttering about selfish Republicans who refuse to sacrifice one ounce of personal freedom for the common good or nanny state Democrats who can’t wipe their butts without the government telling them how to do it. Just say, back the fuck up, and move on.

Rather than mining this virus to find the nugget that confirms your bedrock belief, force yourself to take the exact opposite position from the one you normally take. Look for the opportunity to say something good about that which you normally castigate.

I’ll go first. President Trump was right when he said 100,000-200,000 deaths would be a good outcome. The bad outcome is 1,000,000-2,000,000 deaths. Those who jumped on him for his statement are the same folks who’ve been excoriating him for not taking the virus seriously enough. He did, and he still got walloped.

I hope to continue this practice, so if you see me climbing back on my hobby horse, remind me it can’t trot—I broke its legs. As I begin to travel through Holy Week, may I have courage to humble myself and voluntarily give up that which makes me so proud of my own, small self. May I change so that we can all come together. May I aim for transformation and, ultimately, healing.

Comments (8)

  • I wasn’t sure where you were going until you cited Richard Rohr. So I agree that we should think deeply about the meanings now apparent in this crisis. The media seem fixated on numbers and graphs. The numbers by themselves don’t mean much b/c there has been agreed upon protocol for collecting them. What the media are hoping is that the numbers will finally show some progress against the virus. The interpretation of the numbers is roughly equivalent to political campaign talking points. Maybe we can break our addiction to the non news news, and instead in this season of Lent, temember that we are all pilgrims on the road to Emmaeus or San Juan De Campostelo.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Yes, breaking the addiction to political news (whose job, after all, is to politicize everything) would help us shake our attachment to the particular way we view the world. If we just keep grinding into our old, worn-out opinions, we don’t leave room for the new.

  • Good morning Ellen and just know I’m holding you in prayer that your voice continues to help us focus! Best, Amy (St Marks UMC in New Orleans)

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Good morning, Amy. Thank you for your prayers—it means a lot. ! Did you see I changed my profile pic? Of course, I am touching my head, but it has a hat on it. 🙂 Hope you stay safe.

  • As I am characteristically behind, I didn’t read this post until after our comment exchange on my blog. Yes, Richard Rohr really does seep into our souls if we are open.

    It struck me in reading your post here and the comments that sometimes it is confusing to know what is news and what is interpretation. Perhaps because I live in New York State, which has so many more cases of COVID-19 than anywhere else in the world, the numbers and statistics that we see every day from our governor are not political. They are valuable data that are showing us if our stay-at-home policies are working and if there is community spread in your county and such. Governor Cuomo always reminds us that every death is someone’s loved one. The virus is a great equalizer in that it doesn’t care about your age or philosophy or religion. At the same time, the data are revealing the inequities in our current society, with those living in poverty and those with limited access to health services, especially African-Americans and Latinx depending on the region, dying at higher rates. It’s all very sobering and, I hope, encourages us to make changes in the name of the common good. Some may view that as political; I think of it as ethical.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      You’re right, news vs interpretation is the key, and so many of us search the news for an interpretation that feels comfortable and familiar. The question of what is political can itself be political, but I think we can each recognize when we are leaning on our already-held beliefs to make ourselves feel more in control. I do hope you are right and this terrible time opens us all up to seeing the world a new way with changes for the better.

  • This here: “Rather than mining this virus to find the nugget that confirms your bedrock belief, force yourself to take the exact opposite position from the one you normally take. Look for the opportunity to say something good about that which you normally castigate.” Unfortunately, I see many people using the virus (and the calls to end the stay-at-home orders) to continue to perpetuate their strongly held beliefs. Yeah, I’m one of them (except when it comes to ending the stay-at-home orders). I find it very difficult to not take sides since I want desperately for a miracle to occur. So I’m trying instead to limit my news intake, do what the public health experts urge me to do, and hope we grow from this.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Yes, we are all like this, and it’s very hard not to be. Limiting news intake is a good strategy for me, too, both because it keeps from reinforcing my views and keeps me from yelling at the TV when opposite views come on!

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