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Friday, October 23, 2020
Home Commentary Op-ed Reflections of an Evolving Elder: COVID-19 Reveals Personal Fault Lines

Reflections of an Evolving Elder: COVID-19 Reveals Personal Fault Lines

Shaun A. Pennington
Shaun A. Pennington (Source file photo)

From the moment that I saw what was coming, what was happening, my primary thought was: all our faults are being exposed to the light of day in a way I have never before seen. It is along those fault lines that earthquakes are born.

And here we are, shaking atop the rumbling fault lines of our own making.

There is little we can do about many of the major catastrophes we have wrought in the years since Paul and Ann Erlich wrote “Population Bomb.” They were skewered for it … and yet, though the disasters took a bit longer than they predicted in 1968, here we are reaping the rewards of our failure to heed the warning that overpopulation would wreak havoc on the planet.

Be it overpopulation or infidels, everyone has an opinion about what the “real” problem is: fossil fuel, overpopulation, foreigners, socialism, capitalism, fascism – anything but we.

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Hubris, however, is my answer. Arrogance, conceit, self-importance, egotism, superiority – the list of synonyms goes on.

I love my conspiracy theory friends and count myself among them on some issues. However, the spread of disease through habitat loss and creeping temperatures – both of them undeniably human created – has long been predicted. Think “Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus” by Richard Preston. Written in 1994, Preston chronicled the spread of the deadly Ebola virus from a once remote bat cave on the border between Uganda and Kenya to human beings who came too close.

I was thinking about how many people are willing to advance the notion that “we” created coronavirus in a laboratory. I wonder if that makes us feel like we have control over this status quo-crushing pandemic. Like, “if we created it, we can uncreate it.”

Or, it gives us an easy blame target: some mad scientist did this. Maybe, but the scientific evidence and warnings written almost illegibly in the margins of mainstream media would say otherwise. But we become exonerated from our civic obligation to take personal responsibility for our neighbors and ourselves when we can find someone or something to blame.

The sooner we can swallow the truth, that YES, we did create it – not in a laboratory – very slowly over time through our abdication of personal choice and responsibility, the sooner we can face the daunting task of changing our behaviors to accommodate the deadly, long-term consequences we now face.

And make no mistake, the changes are not about short-term. We must change the way we live, say no to the raging cruelty of habitat destruction and the abomination of factory farming – for starters.

There is ample evidence to support the reality that those two things – the arrogance of our destruction and dominance over our blessed natural resources and the abuse of our brother and sister animals on this planet are the immediate cause of this voracious virus.

 

Graphic from UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) Report 2016
Graphic from UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) Report 2016.

And then there’s the simpler adjustments we could make right this minute.

One of the headlines in this morning’s Washington Post read: From Bourbon Street to Miami Beach, America’s party people ignored pleas for social distancing.

The article stated that across the country “party people” ignored the warnings and, indeed, edicts of their elected and appointed officials and partied on. After all, it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

It happened here in the Virgin Islands too, where cars lined the roadways into Hull Bay and the band played on, while in defiance of reality and all common sense or courtesy, people shook hands and laughed in the face of this global disaster.

I get it. Defiance is my middle name. But there is no room for that right now. Even I know that.

One of my personal reality checks was an article about who will be saved when the tide of infection overwhelms our medical facilities. Answer: Those under 60. At 70, I would be left in the hallway – or maybe even in the parking lot – on a gurney to slowly suffocate.

As James Baldwin, one of the world’s most prolific black authors so poignantly put it in the famous 1968 “Rap on Race” conversation with anthropologist Margaret Mead, “They are not going to ask me who I am before they shoot me.”

I am not personally worried, however. I started social distancing some time ago due to being a writer, and also because I have been in school for the last 18 months. We don’t eat in restaurants often because I prefer my own cooking, frankly, and few restaurants offer interesting vegetarian fare or fresh greens. As an almost lifelong vegetarian addicted to dark leafy greens – eating out holds no appeal other than not feeling like cooking. As a non-drinker, cocktail parties with their attendant small talk hold little allure for me.

I don’t say this out of some sort of holier than thou attitude – though right now it’s hard not to feel grateful for the guidance and grace I have freely received over these 70 years – but only to say it is not for me that I worry.

Our community is still healing from the 2017 storms. Our services are minimal, and while I appreciate the monumental efforts of our institutions and government officials to assure us all that they are prepared as best they can be – and I believe them – why test it when we don’t have to?

If there was ever a time to heed the warnings of experts, it is now. In perusing Facebook looking for announcements about cancellations, I came across a meme asking for people to apply a Shakespeare quote that they thought applied to our current state of affairs.

Here is mine.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Therefore, it is up to us to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” in a way we have never, ever done before. Pay attention when you hear something, ask: Who says so? There is a flood of grandstanding and misinformation raging across the world. Trust the experts who are charged with public service, not personal gain, please.

Editor’s note: This is part one of series on the causes and therefore the solutions both short and long-term to our COVID-19 dilemma.

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