AN article I recently read pointed out that great humanitarian tragedies have given us some of our most iconic literature. From the Great Depression, for example, emerged the Grapes of Wrath; the bubonic plague kept Giovanni Boccaccio homebound and writing the Decameron; and it is widely believed that Albert Camus’s The Plague was based on a cholera epidemic. Most notably, there is a compelling case to be made for the Bard—William Shakespeare—writing King Lear while in quarantine.
Clearly, being stuck in quarantine gives a person time to think and if you’re of an artistic bent, that could be a good thing. But we’re not all Shakespeare, and for most of us, time to think only means more time to stress over a thousand different things, not the least of which would be the latest contraction of our breathing space during this lockdown. And if we’re not careful, that stress can be a more insidious killer than even the coronavirus.
Unlike the coronavirus, however, we can fight back against stress, by deliberately choosing one thought over another. You can, for instance, consider how our government—from the national level of government down to the local—is reacting to this existential crisis we are facing. You might also want to ask how we got here in the first place.
The last time you voted, why did you choose the candidates you did? Was it because of how they spoke? Was it because of their political affiliation? Did you pick a candidate because of a campaign promise? Or were you swayed by someone’s track record? Did you think long and hard about every single vote you cast? Or did you mark down intelligent votes only for the high-profile positions and just zip through the rest of the ballot? They say hindsight is always 20/20, and these are the clear-eyed questions we should be asking ourselves now, if we haven’t before. Rarely has there been a clearer need for us to once again, go over our election day choices. Given that we now suddenly find our very lives, quite literally, in the hands of elected officials, the connection between what we write on the ballot and the quality of governance we get is undeniable and, to my mind, can no longer be ignored.
This kind of critical thinking won’t give us any quick solves for the problems we are grappling with now, but with any sort of luck, it’ll help us avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Misery loves company
In the meantime, one other thing you might also want to take notice of is the proliferation of social-media content featuring firsthand accounts—even video—of people suffering from the worst effects of Covid-19. You might have actually shared something like that yourself at some point in the last few days.
One video that struck me in particular showed a person on a gurney, violently convulsing, obviously in great pain. The caption for the video indicated that the footage was shot in a Covid-19 intensive care unit, but nothing in the video itself corroborated that claim. And yet, that unsubstantiated video—which, if we’re being frank about it, could have been not Covid-19-related at all or even faked—had already been shared thousands of times by the time I saw it.
I get it. Misery loves company, and maybe there is some value in scaring people into compliance. But with the people already staggering under the mental load of fear, loneliness, and anxiety this coronavirus is dumping on everyone, do we really need more “plagueporn”?
No, we do not. We can’t all be Shakespeare, composing sonnets in quarantine, but at the very least, we can refuse to be part of the dysfunctional sharing of disturbing content that does nothing but grind our minds deeper into the dirt of fear. We can instead be hopeful like that Irish Capuchin Franciscan, Brother Richard Hendrick, who wrote: “Yes there is fear. But there does not have to be hate. Yes there is isolation. But there does not have to be loneliness. Yes there is panic buying. But there does not have to be meanness. Yes there is sickness. But there does not have to be disease of the soul. Yes there is even death. But there can always be a rebirth of love.”
We’re going to get through this.