Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
April 2020 - Volume 20, No. 4
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Toward a “New Normal”

“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The questions:
What kind of world do we want to emerge from the ravages of Covid-19?
And what part can I play in getting us there?

Let’s say we’re in charge of that decision, or that decision process. And if we don’t take some responsibility, then that responsibility will pass to someone else, and their own agenda. Sounds like something we’ve just tried -  and it hasn’t seemed to work lately.

Like a Stephen King novel. (Remember our first name for it was “Novel Coronavirus.”) It was a normal day. And somewhere, out of our awareness, someone did something foolish (probably pretty stupid really). We don’t know what. Probably we’ll never know. But a door had been opened to the vast dark land beneath us, and before it could be closed again, hordes of demons from the land of Hell had begun rushing through, and as if methodically in a short period of time, the terrors of chaos, fear and death took a destructive hold of everything. (King is a master of portraying this.) Also, the hearts of many have been torn open for us to view in truth what’s been in there - perhaps within ourselves as well.  Perhaps some demons may have their own sense of humor.  

Underneath the chaos and demonic noise, King would find a singular person. A quiet, almost ego free, deeply “good” person, around whom evil has little or no potency. And then his narrative would come to a simple (almost too simple) end. In our public world we can think of Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Stephen King likes simple people, and even more he could trust their quiet goodness. And it would be through some (or maybe just one) of those folks that the demons would eventually find themselves quietly shepherded back to their own homeland.  

>Somewhere in my record collection there’s the folksinger songwriter, Bill Staines, who honors these simple folk with his “quiet faith of man.”[1]

Here and Now

We’ve got to get back to, or get on with, something we can live with here. Because what we’ve got right now has to at least ‘level out’ toward something individually and collectively we can survive.

And as a life-long student of human nature, I easily recognize, even among some of my friends, the ‘ease’ by which we can attach ourselves to something we can rail against. Without troubles, there’d be no drama, and without drama, the boredom would push us to invent troubles. Living in Michigan, I’m quite familiar with walking in the woods on a quiet Summer day with a hoard of mosquitos at my back. They’re the unofficial state bird, and seem to like me.[2]

And professionally, I’m used to those conflicts walking in my office door, in forms of inter-personal or family conflict, struggles with personal identity, struggles within oneself, sometimes manifesting as physical or psychological struggles, sometimes with those little or great deaths that seem to show up within life itself.  As old Zorba says (in “Zorba the Greek”),

“Life is trouble, only death is not.
To be alive is to hitch up your belt and look for trouble.”

But right now we’re in the throes of a ‘really’ big trouble.

That little spiky crimson bastard has in the matter of just a few months has infected and killed hundreds of thousands all over the known world. He honors no boundaries, political, economic, social - and when he does, it’s the more vulnerable who pay the highest price in terms of suffering and death.

He can bring out the worst and the best of us. Leadership foundering and failures are becoming more evident, with the hard results of thousands upon thousands of lives lost and despair increased. The heroes (good people, of high and low estate) rush in and often die as well - asking only that the powers that be support them by providing the tools & supplies by which to save lives, even their own.

And there have been terrible ironies. If people gather to worship or to gather just to have fun together - more will die. If friends or family gather right now, more will die. Some children and other family members who are quarantined, may face greater domestic violence and decreased community protection. Poverty will skyrocket, in the face of its scowl-faced cousins, the hoarders and fence-builders.

A catastrophe like this pandemic can throw light upon the world as it is, but it also can give us glimpses of other worlds that might be possible, to form a “new normal.”

The Great Question

What kind of “New Normal” do we want to build as we emerge from this wreckage?

One common answer is to get back, to reclaim the ‘old normal.’  Well, in many places it wasn’t working, though the news was slow in emerging, especially for those ‘older white men’ with failing eyesight. Or the temptation will be as if we would raise the highway speed limit another 10 miles per hour, even without repairing the roads. More people will die or be injured, but few in offices of power will notice. Old news can easily be morphed into ‘fake news.’

“We were are in this together.”

We may become better able to look back and see we suffered and we died together. We survived together. That spiky virus paid no attention to boundaries, except the ones we forged by our sacrifices and changes in social behavior. 

From the perspective of history, and from our new-emerging sense of “togetherness” from this crisis….

We hopefully learned more about our care for each other by being forced to be separate for a larger purpose. “Six feet distance” wasn’t easy, but in order to save lives, we’re learning to do it.

Washing our hands more often wasn’t a great sacrifice, but when we did it for the sake of others, it took on a different meaning. Wearing face masks was a great bother and nuisance, but when we learned it wasn’t just for our own sakes, but to protect others, something in us began to change. And when the national supply chain didn’t work well, we began making our own.

Of necessity, there is already an economic burden on many of us - many things are going to have to be paid for. Though the apportionment of that burden has been a favorite battle of many in ‘power’, the meaning of that burden and its apportionment will (hopefully) be changing. 

We are getting to a point where the kind of world we really want - a world where “we’re in this together” can have a new chance to become a greater reality. The contention  between economic security and humanitarian greatness, will become more a creative dialogue than just a winner-take-all struggle. With the latter, the powers will generally lean toward the economic camp. Some of that previous “normal” we must relinquish. It’s time.  

I was too young to participate in the post World War II reconstruction, but I’ve known to be proud of ourselves for what we learned and did. We rebuilt from the best we had and knew - even though some of the leadership struggles were difficult.

It’s not just a matter of burying our dead, of coming up with a COVID-9 antivirus within this coming year and a half, of repairing the lives of our most vulnerable, and rebuilding a safe place for our children.

We’ll steal the ‘crown’ from the virus, and together wear it proudly as a land where people can live the lives the Almighty gave into our own hands to love and care for.

The Coronavirus will have taught us to care and thrive “in this together.”  And a new form of caring may emerge in this land.

We can do this - beginning now.

There’s a phrase that shows up in the Bible, “And the scales fell from their eyes.”

Let me conclude with a few lines from Bill Staines (op cit)[1]

“You take the little that you know
And you do the best you can
You see the rest with the quiet faith of man.”

Pay Attention


[1] Bill Staines, “The Faith of Man”.

[2] There was a time I could out-pace them - but I had a younger body then. Now I just have to wear thicker clothing.

Comments (2)

  • Awesome

    Bill – Good to know you are alive and well! Excellent article! “A new form of caring will emerge!” I love that! Take care, my friend!!

    — Jill Incarnati, 4/20/2020
  • A masterpiece!

    Bill, I always gain insight from your articles. This one particularly impressed me. Thank you for sharing your wisdom! Please take good care of yourself. Hugs!

    — Marilyn Mazanec, 4/20/2020

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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