I am reading so many good words these days, but sadly, none of them are coming from the president. That’s a shame, because throughout history, words have inspired people to resist tyranny, to slog through depressions and to find their better selves in times of crisis.
What leaps to mind? “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” or “Give me liberty or give me death” or “No taxation without representation.” Sober and inspiring, right?
Last week, I’m pretty sure I heard Donald Trump spewing nonsense about ultraviolet light and disinfectants curing Covid-19. He said he was just putting it out there; he was just thinking out loud. What’s the harm?
The terrible harm is that he is a font of abysmal ignorance, and his advice is taken to heart by many people who believe what he says because he is, unfortunately, the president of the United States. I know some of you read these words and want to remind me of the respect due a president. I say to that: Respect is earned. Trump has trampled every opportunity to speak truth to the American people, to support the scientists who are on the front lines and to create an organized federal response to this pandemic. His lying has always been disturbing, but now it has become lethal.
If you believe what he says and you also hope to live a full life, just check with your doctor before you inject any disinfectant.
Two weeks ago, Trump used the word “liberate” to rally the know-nothings who see social distancing, a proven life-saving strategy, as some kind of infringement of their right to go back to work or out to the local bar. That particular word, “liberate,” was intentionally used to foment protest among Trump’s base.
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman said it with his own excellent prose: “Think about the use of that word. We were not in jail! We were not doing something wrong! We were doing what our president, governor, mayor and national epidemic experts told us to do: behave responsibly and shelter in place . . . Trump was cynically trying to curry favor with his base by implying that the Democratic governors . . . were unfairly locking people up. Is there anything more irresponsible that this president could do?”
That was before Doctor Trump started free-associating about disinfectants and ultraviolet light.
Fortunately, the best words are also being offered by thinkers and writers who choose to lift us up. Mindfulness expert Jack Kornfield wrote in the Times Magazine:
“The feeling that we have so little control over how death could touch us in this instance — that’s what a lot of these current anxieties come down to, right? We’re worried about ourselves or the ones we love dying from Covid-19 . . . It’s wild that we have our personalities and our bodies and full lives and families and then, poof, they’re gone. We look for a story . . . What I know from 50 years of meditation and doing hospice work is that we’re not just this body. You are made of spirit. And the spirit makes it so that even if people have died, we’re still profoundly connected to them in love. In that sense, they haven’t exactly died. They are in us, not only in our hearts but also somehow in our very being. Knowing this doesn’t take away the power of that grief to shake us to our roots, but it lets us know something bigger than all of that: Who I am is not just this body. We are consciousness.”
Seeing the beauty in Kornfield’s words gives me faith that we will also understand this time more fully when our fiction writers begin using this global pandemic as grist for the literary mill. Writer Sloane Crosley reminds us that things are moving too quickly now to have any perspective, but with the advantage of time, we may find ourselves reading another “Don Quixote” or “The Grapes of Wrath” or “The Plague,” all inspired by historic tragedies.
Time is the critical ingredient. As Crosley said in a Times article, the sensational, get-it-while-it’s-hot treatment of world events often disappoints. Fiction writers, she said, are only now getting World War I right, which may be a bit of an exaggeration.
We can only hope that our best writers are busy taking notes so that someday they can summon their own best words to explain this crazy time to the rest of us.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.