Recently my daughter Rocky wrote a piece for her Patreon that helped me to name something that was firing up my anxiety. She wrote, “I think one of the reasons that this year was so frustrating was because we all felt so terribly out of control. It largely felt as if we were all at the mercy of Whomever Is Controlling All This and they were just having a bad day and decided to unleash a series of plagues upon us all.”
The truth is every day since we began COVID-19 related restrictions in the US, I would get up in the morning and, through tears, check the news and health authorities to get the latest numbers on how many people had contracted the virus; and how many succumbed. I would deduce from the numbers of confirmed cases and the numbers of those who had died another number – those who were recovering.
This morning ritual was my way of feeling like I was in control over something that was obviously not in my control. I thought that if I just knew what was going on, I would be able to manage the chaos of my life and these times. But obsession does not yield manageability and did nothing for my ability to deal with the uncertainty that was caused by the bungled – and criminal – US response to this virus.
There was nothing I could do about those rising numbers even though I was doing my part to adhere to common sense guidance on public gatherings and personal behavior. The way forward through this awful thing was beyond my personal discipline. There was no leadership rising in the country to rally All Americans to work together and to contain this virus. In fact, the opposite was happening. To respond to a virus we cannot shoot to death – the former president actively promoted conspiracy theories and bad science. The ruling political party discouraged people from wearing masks and ridiculed groups that halted their public gatherings.
Rocky’s perspective helped me to admit that obsessing over the numbers was my way of personally trying to control something.
What I couldn’t control or face was the fact that, even with numbers, graphs, and stats, the losses were incalculable and could not be tallied. My effort to try to do so bordered on arrogance and ignorance, but it provided some relief from the reality of chaos unfolding before my eyes every day.
Thank you, Rocky. “A little child shall lead them, the prophets said of old. Thru storm and tempest, heed them, until the bell is tolled” (A Cradle in Bethlehem.)
We cannot calculate the loss of hope and genius those we lost took with them when their lives were cut short – and political indifference cut their lives short.
It angers me when Christians say, “Well this was God’s will. God is in control. If God didn’t want this to happen, it wouldn’t. This is all a part of God’s plan.” (However, the point is not my anger about that kind of trivializing and dismissing of the impact of selfish human behavior; the point is that we do to God what Adam did to Eve. “It wasn’t me; it was her!”).
God did not plan for more than half a million people to die in the US. (Lord, have mercy on the millions across the globe.)
God did not plan for countless others to be left to deal with the lingering consequences of the virus.
God did not plan for a generation of people to be left mourning the empty chairs in their lives.
None of this is God’s will.
We who dismiss incomprehensible things like a country refusing to rally to mitigate the impact of a virus on its population because whatever is the outcome of the virus ravaging its population is actually “God’s Will,” are often the people who refuse to take responsibility for the impact of our own destructive behavior – on other people and the planet.
We yell, “Survival of the fittest!” We pontificate on those who should “Sacrifice for the American way of life.”
What we will not say is, “I am greedy and selfish and don’t care if others live or die, because I still have what I want.” Even now with the availability of vaccinations, Texas and Mississippi won’t even hold enough grace to let people get protected before they throw open the doors and windows, making people even more vulnerable to the variants of this virus – about which we still have much to learn.
No – not God’s will. Instead, this was a most profound and telling demonstration of American spirituality. Americans worship capitalism and violence and these who have died have been the sacrifices made to those gods.
I am beginning to make room to sit with what I cannot control, and in my heart, I am crafting the liturgy that addresses the weariness of ambiguous and unrelenting grief.