America has no “golden age” to speak of – anyone telling you different is selling something – but lately I’ve been unable to shake the feeling that something in us is more deeply broken than it has been for a long time, and we’re running out of time in which to fix it.
In short, we’ve lost our capacity for fellow-feeling, for anything like a sense of national unity.
America has never been perfect, and never will be: there have always been racism and bigotry and those things will always divide us. Even when we’ve been at our worst, though, there was always a sense in which we knew it and wanted to be better – for each other – as though there was a promise we had to keep.
[W]e’ve decided to throw certain people under the bus, and where’s the honor in that?
Joe Louis, the heavyweight champion, joined the Army during World War II. He was asked why he would fight for a country where he wasn’t respected as a man and a citizen. “Lots of things wrong with America,” Louis responded, “but Hitler ain’t going to fix them.” If he could say that, then, we ought to be able to say something like it now.
We could – we did – until not too long ago: I remember how, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there was a sense of unity.
On the ground, the conversations were about the loss of life and how tragic that loss is. The shared sense of the tragedy led us to be united in our desire to seek justice for those lost lives. That feeling was part of what propelled us into a useless war. Like I said: not perfect.
Still, there was no talk about how the people who died that day were somehow expendable or how losing those three thousand people was not that many. There were no comparisons to the loss of life in car accidents or loss of life from the flu. We just all understood how tragic was the loss of each life that day.
In this time of pandemic, conversations are about individual loss of income and loss of travel and almost always about our own losses and rarely about anyone else’s. “United we stand,” was drilled into me, I suppose, “divided, we fall.” Have we fallen?
In this pandemic, I cannot see hardly a glimpse of the unity I saw after 9/11. People who think the shutdown is bad really need a dose of real talk: it is only going to get worse. This is going to be a long year. Things are not going “back to normal” – and whatever it is that this shutdown has brought to light is something that was a problem before it happened and is begging to be healed. Money, jobs, and “normal” are just ways to keep busy and avoid looking at those wounds. God is giving us a wakeup call and making us be still. What will we do with that?
Will we work to find the brokenness and heal it, or will we keep on fighting one another?
Whatever it is that this pandemic has shone a light on in your life was already there. Maybe it was easier not to face it or to deny it by being busy with the Go Go Go life. If you are moving fast enough then you do not have to sit with yourself and your wounds – or anyone else’s – you can pretend they are not there, but that is all it is: pretending.
We are even pretending that the virus is gone, this crisis is over, and we can all just go back to life as normal. Even with all the scientific evidence saying that is not the case, that there will be a second wave and it will be worse than the first. Instead of preparing for it, we are all fighting about freedom and choice and “what about my LIFE?!?”
We will be arguing and debating about all these things up until the moment comes when both the flu and coronavirus hit. We will all be shocked and taken aback at how bad it is. Then, what?
Will we finally realize the only way forward is together or will we keep playing this game where we only worry about ourselves?
We just celebrated Memorial Day in America, on which we honor those, who died in battle defending our country. We honor our dead and recognize the sacrifice they made to keep us all free and safe. It felt empty to me.
From where I am, it looks like we’ve decided to throw certain people under the bus, and where’s the honor in that? The moment we decided the people being lost to COVID-19 were not that big of a loss was the moment we stopped even trying to be whatever it is that makes America worth fighting for, at all.
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