I skipped the news today and clicked on Zoom where my church held Morning Prayer for Holy Week and there we all were in little boxes on the screen, like pastries on the grocery shelf, and we prayed for forgiveness — though in self-isolation, there’s not much lust or anger, just gluttony and sloth, the usual — and I prayed for my friends who are alone, the one who said, “This is a great time for introverts” and the one who told me she’d instructed her doorman that, if she dies, she should be hauled away in a cardboard box and cremated, no ceremony.
Meanwhile, it is spring in New York City. Bright green grass is growing in the planter boxes on our balcony and a loud bird is hanging out there. We are three people isolating ourselves in five rooms, one reading, one Facetiming, one typing these words. We have groceries, running water, WiFi, all the necessities, and we’re on the 12th floor and can open a door and sit outside in the sunshine, the ultimate luxury.
It’s an easy life compared to what many people are going through and skipping the news lets you ignore a president who, as the British writer Nate White points out, “has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honor and no grace” and now, in a national crisis, shows himself to be an ignorant bumbler and con artist focused on weeding out non-yes-men in the White House.
The Founders never considered this. They provided for impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors but not for blinkered stupidity. So we must depend on the heroes in our midst, the hospital workers and truck drivers and grocery clerks and crucial employees, the people the Queen thanked in her speech, to get us through the next few weeks or months until, God help us, the rate of infection declines and life can resume.
In the summer of 1942, the year I was born, a terrible storm hit my hometown in Minnesota and our cousin Florence Hunt ran out of her house with a baby in hand as a tornado blew the roof off and blew mother and child into the limbs of a tree. She climbed down, bruised, the baby unhurt, and took shelter next door at her father-in-law Rozel’s whose father had died of TB when Rozel was a boy. My aunt Jo lived nearby on a farm where my father almost broke his neck his team of four horses got spooked and took off at a wild gallop. His cousin Joe Loucks drowned in the Rum River and my father and his brothers formed a human chain but couldn’t save him. My father who, as a boy, looked out the schoolhouse window and saw his family’s house burning down.
My people were no strangers to disaster. I grew up knowing strong farm women who had driven tractors and handled guns and slaughtered chickens and dealt with troubled men and as a child I could sense their capability. They set high standards but practiced forgiveness. Florence was a cheerful woman and once she’d been blown into a tree, she was fearless. My mother was a worrier and every time she left the house she imagined she’d left the iron on and the house would burn down. The tornado did Florence some good.
My school, Anoka High School, adopted that storm of 1942 as a symbol and our teams became the Anoka Tornadoes. Other teams were named for zoo animals, bears or lions, but we intended to cause devastation. My university, Minnesota, was named for a burrowing rodent, but never mind that. These are brands, and they mean less than nothing. Washington is full of men who think in terms of branding and study opinion polls to gauge their own credibility. Churchill didn’t do that in 1940 as Britain stood on the brink. We don’t need it either. Our country is in trouble and it lacks coherent leadership and this obligates us to extend ourselves to each other. Love your neighbor. Gather your family close. Prepare for hard times ahead. Pledge allegiance to each other. This country is so much better than it appears these days. Now is the time to come to its aid, before it sinks.