Overreacting

This morning, I was watching “The Sunday Scrum” on CBC News Network.  There was a moderator and four panelists, all grappling with the coronavirus.  At one point, a woman said “Let’s bring in the army.”  Two of her colleagues reacted with stunned faces, and then said that this reaction would be “over the top”.  It seems to me that the other two folks danced around the issue.

The army?  Sounds like a doomsday movie where looters are shot on sight.  But that wasn’t at all what the woman was proposing.

We’re in the middle of  “There’s a big problem.  What do we do?”  Since early March, the Canadian Government has slowly ratcheted up its solutions:

1. We recommend that …
2. It is strongly advised that …
3. You are ordered to … (no consequences mentioned)
4. You are ordered to … (mild consequences mentioned)
5. You are ordered to … (hefty fines and possibly jail terms mentioned)
6. You are ordered to … (police active in fining and arresting people)

According to the Canada Census, about 37,500,000 Canadians were alive in 2019, and about 30,400,000 of them were adults.  If 95% of us adults are abiding by the directives for physical distancing, staying away from groups and washing our hands, that would leave about 1,520,000 who aren’t.

In 2018, the estimated number of police officers in Canada was 68,562. Divide one by the other and you get 22.  That’s the number of coronavirus offenders that each officer would have to keep track of, as well as doing their other duties.  And really, are 95% of us following the rules?  Plus left out of this guesswork are young people up to the age of 17.

I say invoke the Emergencies Act.  This would allow the deployment of the Armed Forces across our country.  It’s not a restriction of our civil liberties.  For we are not at liberty to infect others and increase the spread of this disease.

If this is overreacting in the usual way of thinking, I’m okay with it.  We need to save ourselves.

Where Is Everybody?

If you read yesterday’s post, you know that my task today was to search through the 156 episodes of the original Twilight Zone TV series to find some guidance in this time of coronavirus.

I started at the very beginning.  Episode One of Season One was telecast on October 2, 1959.  The fold-out card that came with the DVDs described “Where Is Everybody?” this way:

Earl Holliman stars as a man on the edge of hysteria in an oddly deserted town.  Despite the emptiness, he has the strangest feeling that he’s being watched.

Was this promising for my mission?  I didn’t know.  Perhaps Wikipedia could help.  A minute later, the plot of Episode One lay before me.  And it was indeed promising.

***

On my walks in and near Belmont, there haven’t been many people to say “Hi” to.  Even the cars seem to be hunkered down in their driveways and garages.  But at least the birds are still in full song.  Overall, it’s eerie.  Out in the country, I scan the horizon for walking human beings, hoping that they won’t turn off before reaching me.

***

On my TV, a young man is alone on a country road, approaching a town.  Our host, Rod Serling, sets the stage:

The place is here.  The time is now.  And the journey into the shadows that we’re about to watch could be our journey.

It certainly is.

Main Street is empty.  “Anybody here?  Hey!  Hey!”

There’s a woman sitting in a car across the street.  “I don’t seem to remember who I am,” he calls out.  But she’s a mannequin.

The phone is ringing in a telephone booth.  He sprints, longing for a voice to be with.  There is one at the other end of the line … a recording.

A church bell tones through the silence, echoing.

There’s a diner kitty corner, and the man finds ice cream, but no people.  He watches himself in a mirror as the delicious flavour goes down.  No joy.

“I’d like to find somebody to talk to!”

The man bursts into a movie theatre … row upon row of empty seats.  A film is showing but the projection room is empty.

It turns out that this was a military experiment to assess the ability of prospective astronauts to cope with the emptiness of space.  The assessors are blunt:  “He cracked … It’s a kind of nightmare that your mind manufactured for you.”

As the credits rolled, so did Rod’s words:

The barrier of loneliness: the palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man.  Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation.  It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting … in The Twilight Zone.

***

My friends, we have resources beyond the physical …

Telephoning
Texting
E-mailing
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Skype
Zoom

Let’s use them

Source

I just spent an hour looking through web pages about the coronavirus, seeking some insight, some perspective, that I could share with you. Nothing tickled my brain.

Isn’t there some cutting edge scientist out there, like Dr. Fauci, who has a pearl of wisdom that I could pass on? Or perhaps the Dalai Lama, basically the leader of Buddhists around the world. He’s written so many books about the spiritual life. Surely he has an enlightening comment or two. But I didn’t find anything that sang to me. Maybe the Internet is getting proficient at hiding inspiration.

So who does that leave us with? How about you and me? Likely we don’t have the years of scientific study or a deeply meditative life. Each of us, though, has a history of life experiences that’s taught us a thing or two. It’s not our first rodeo, even though we’ve never ridden a bucking bronco like this.

Who am I to have an original idea, something that no one’s thought of? It seems outrageous … but really why not? It’s worth a try.

Hmm. Nothing’s coming. I’ll wait a bit longer …

Still waiting.

***

As my mind relaxes, a thought emerges:

Bruce, downstairs you have a collection of episodes from the 1960s TV series “The Twilight Zone”. There are probably sixty of them. There’s an answer in there somewhere.

But that wouldn’t be my original idea.

Bruce … the originality will be in how you apply the writer’s idea to the coronavirus.

Okay. I guess you’re right. I’ll head downstairs.

***

I’m back. It’s a box set of 28 DVDs … 156 episodes … about 75 hours of playing time. (Sigh)

Somewhere within all those stories is guidance for us
I will find it

Shifting Perspective

In these days of the coronavirus, our TVs still show us messages that purport to make our lives better.  Some commercials have me pause.  Just how important is the suggested improvement?

1.  A grizzly bear has a fish in its mouth.  Suddenly, his eyes go wide and the fish plummets to the ground.  He has seen a shiny new truck go by.

2.  A woman smiles radiantly through a shining face.  She is the happy user of a “rapid wrinkle repair” cream.

3.  A riding mower zips along.  Who knew that I have the power to be a “guardian of the grass”, a “keeper of the green”?  I can “ride faster”, be a “time cruncher”.  Happiness follows.

4.  My hair can be rescued from the ravages of time.  “Rich, radiant colour” is mine for the taking because, after all, “no colour covers greys better.”

5.  All will be well.  This drug will give me clear skin.  Unfortunately, “serious allergic reactions may occur.”

6.  To be a real man, a full head of hair is required.  Thank God that I can “defy hair loss by regrowing more hair” and that “[my] satisfaction is guaranteed.”

***

From whence does my satisfaction arise?
Is there a person, thing or action that will rescue me from the doldrums of life?
Or should I take another look at the values I choose?

Words

I’m imagining a world in which the words we use to describe the coronavirus have far different meanings.  Somewhere inside, I trust that this world will come to be.

Transmission

What can we transmit from person to person?  Could it be love, peace, a feeling of deep connection?  Perhaps it will be unspoken, brought into being through a mysterious sense of “being with”.

Viral

What can spread rapidly, frequently being shared among human beings?  Can your kind words propel me towards offering similar messages to the people I meet?  Can the speed increase, so that folks in a meeting all feel the speaker’s goodness?

Distancing and Self-Isolation

How about keeping sixty feet away from toxic speech and actions?  Someone’s complaining, stereotyping and excluding can’t touch me from there.

Quarantine

An ancient meaning is to spend forty days in penance or fasting.  Can we take a month of our lives, and while still getting things done, meditate on kindness … and allow it to flow from us?

Index Case

If we’re looking for the first instance of a phenomenon in a geographical area, perhaps we’ll find a stunning example of generosity, of spiritual communion, of grace.  And we can follow that example.  His or her leadership can be contagious.

Pandemic

Deme is a word in biology which refers to “a local population of organisms of the same kind”.  It is from the Greek word demos, meaning “a district, the people”.  So … what can unite us as we travel this road of life together?  I know.  We all have eyes.  Perhaps in the future we will simply spend a lot of time gazing softly into each other’s.

 

 

Doctor Wenliang

Doctor Li Wenliang was a 34-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China.  He died in February of Covid-19.  In December he heard disturbing reports about people who had become ill after going to a local market.  He did some research and his eyes opened horribly wide.  The illnesses looked like SARS.

So … what do you do, especially in a country like China, where speaking up is often followed by being shut up?  “What will happen to me if tell the truth as I see it?  What will happen to my family?”

Doctor Wenliang spoke up.

Li sent a message to his medical-school alumni group on December 30 warning that seven patients had been quarantined at Wuhan Central Hospital after coming down with a respiratory illness that seemed like the SARS coronavirus.

“When I saw them circulating online, I realized that it was out of my control and I would probably be punished,” Li told CNN.

What would it be … a government hit squad knocking down his door and dragging him away in front of his screaming children?  His personhood disappearing, due to some “indeterminate cause”?

Doctor Wenliang was no doubt terrified, while remaining absolutely committed to humanity.

The police did come, with a letter for Li to sign:

[We are] now filing an official warning and admonitions to you on the illegal issue of posting untrue statements on the Internet according to the law.  Your behavior severely disrupts social order.  Your behavior has exceeded the scope permitted by the law and violates the relevant provisions of “The Public Security Administration Punishment Law of the People’s Republic of China”, which is an illegal act!  The police authority hopes that you can co-operate with our work, listen to the admonishment by the police officers and stop conducting illegal activities.

We hope that you calm down and reflect carefully, and solemnly warn you: if you continue to be stubborn without any regret, and carry out illegal activities, you will be punished by the law!  Do you understand?

At the bottom of the letter, Doctor Wenliang signed, and wrote “Yes, I do.”

In a formal statement at this time, the police said they would “investigate and punish with zero tolerance these illegal acts that fabricate and spread rumours and disrupt social order”.

Your light will shine for a very long time, Doctor.

 

How Wide Is Our We?

I fear that some of us are only experiencing “me” right now.  The mind is so full that the “we” is having a hard time finding its way in.  “I want a tan.”  And so Vancouver beaches are full of folks enjoying the unusual sunny weather.

I get that most of us, however, are living and breathing beyond the boundary of our skin.  We think of our parents and grandparents, of our dearest friends.  We’d go through hell for these folks.  We have so many memories of their goodness reaching out over the years.  They must be protected by our physical absence.

But is there more?

At my local coffee shop, now shuttered, there is a fellow who doesn’t like me.  “So … you didn’t know that, school teacher?”  I’ve actually enjoyed my conversations with him.  I’ve felt twinges of antagonism towards him but mostly it’s just curiosity.  Can I include him in my we?  For the sake of all beings, I must.  Personality conflicts represent one layer of reality.  We need to ascend far beyond such boundaries.

Then there are that infinite number of human beings that I don’t know.  On my daily (and solitary) walks, I often meet them.  They show up on my TV screen and on Facebook.  They too are part of my family.  I must include them as well.

I don’t have to like everyone.  For sure, I don’t.  But I do need to love everyone … not the possessive “You’re mine” type of love, but a far wider embrace.  We’re together on this planet.  Your life – apparently unknown to me – is also deeply known.  In whatever language, in whatever environment, you pass through the same joys and sorrows as I do.  You are my brother and my sister.

And so I stay away from your body … but not your soul.

 

What To Say?

I don’t know what to say.  And so I’ve said nothing to you for the past eleven days. “How can I write anything of value when the virus is so new and overwhelming for me?”  Well, perhaps now is the time to start.  If anything I say turns out to be helpful to even one person, then I (finally) feel the responsibility to say it.

I have no symptoms and I’m self-isolating at home.  I go for a long walk every day but other than that it’s a lot of couch time with my friends CBC News Network and CNN.  I’m 71, and I want to protect both me and my neighbours.  No doubt like you, this prolonged period of being physically alone feels so strange.

I miss the kids at school, and when my walks take me by their homes I keep hoping that a young one will bounce out their front door and say “Hi, Mr. Kerr.”  And a few times that’s happened.  Being away from children shows me in spades how deeply I value my face time with them.

***

I’ve watched countless interviews and press conferences.  How rarely does a politician answer a reporter’s question.  There’s a mountain of words spewing forth but also a sense of tapdancing around the truth.  When the official finally wraps up their comments, I long for a reporter to say “You didn’t answer my question.”  But I have yet to hear those words.  Yesterday, someone asked a health official “How many respirators are there in Canada?”  As the non-answer droned on for at least three minutes, I felt my exhale draw the life out of me.  But then, wonder of wonders, I heard the final word: “5000”.  So I’m hopeful that the truth will increasingly be revealed.

***

The Premier of Nova Scotia just gave a press conference, in which he declared a state of emergency for his province.  No more than five people gathered together.  Strict self-isolation for positive cases of the coronavirus.  And … the police will be on the streets enforcing these measures.  People who don’t follow these public health orders will be fined $1000 per day until they do.  Thank you, dear Nova Scotia Premier.  A clear principle of classroom management is the use of judicious consequences for breaking rules.  Clearly, adults need these as well.

***

I’m glad I wrote these words.  There’s a place for me within our worldwide response to this crisis.  I don’t know what I’ll say tomorrow, but I’ll see you then.

Hands Up

Sometimes I sit towards the back of the class as the Grade 5/6 kids gather on the carpet in front of the SmartBoard. The teacher was rolling through a Language lesson this afternoon, and most of the kids were engaged.

I looked at the variety of human beings spread before me. Outgoing, shy, adventurous, cautious … all of that is good. The world needs each of their flavours.

“Jeremy” often asked questions and I got to see hands going up. Quite a few of them, actually, like a little forest.

Every volunteering arm seemed to be straight up – beyond the crown of the head. Some fingers waved frantically. The kids so much wanted to be heard. I loved it.

I thought back many years to a time when I worked with blind children from Grade 5 to Grade 8. The hands of sighted classmates taught me. Grade 5’s showed me the same thing that I saw today. Gradually over the grades, however, the fingers stopped waving, and the height of hands dropped down to shoulder level. And there were far fewer volunteers.

Is this what happens to us human beings as we grow older? Do we gradually forget the zest and the thrill of sharing our thoughts? Yes, for some of us. There often is a dampening, a suppression, a desire not to stand out.

Ah, dear adults … let us return to the waving fingers. Let us stand up and be seen. Let us contribute our uniqueness to the general good. There is much work to be done.

In The Presence Of

I’m sitting in the back room of Streamliners Espresso Bar in St. Thomas, Ontario, enjoying my fancy coffee. An easy chair enfolds me.

The only other human beings in the space are two young women talking about life. They know I’m here, and they’ve chosen to have a very real conversation despite my presence. That’s pretty cool.

During the last half hour I’ve sometimes felt like a voyeur, but I know that’s not my intention. Their voices are simply loud enough to reach my ears. Actually, it’s a privilege to hear them laughing now, to see how natural they are together.

The conversation has been wide-ranging – from careers to family to … men. And that last topic has focused on the positive, worlds away from bitching about the male species. I’ve heard words such as “kind” and “generous” and “sexy”. Now they’re rambling through a certain young man’s life with “lonely” and “funny” and “I wonder if it’s possible”. Oh my God. They must be so comfy with their lives to talk like this with me here.

Lucky me!

And now it’s time to go.