Lakewood, CO. As we move further into the calendar year, the growing COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate not only the news cycle, but our everyday lives as well. To combat the continuing spread of the virus, all levels of government are stepping up their efforts to enforce social distancing and stay-at-home-orders. Unfortunately, this has caused some people and organizations to stand against these actions because of the perceived overreach of governmental authority. They are also upset over the shuttering of businesses deemed non-essential to the continuing effort to combat the virus, or the delivery of basic goods and services to citizens. These people have created the narrative that the shuttering of the economy has more long-term consequences than the actual virus itself. Such opposition seems like wasted effort to me. The loss of life that this virus has the potential to inflict is far more serious than the potential economic consequences we will suffer. Economic downturns are, after all, temporary; death is not.
However, I do think that these detractors get something right: they are standing up for their beliefs. Amidst this crisis, they are defending the principles they hold dear: limited government, individual autonomy, free commerce, and the rights-based tradition our Founders laid out for us. Instead of simply letting the constant bad news about the spread of the virus overwhelm them, they are fighting for particular principles. This echoes the story of Luther at the Diet of Worms. When confronted on his beliefs by Emperor Charles V, he replied, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” That spirit seems to be alive and well in the movement to simply reopen the economy as soon as possible, and confine government back into its little corner which it has overstepped.
Unfortunately, their stand is erroneous. To stand for principle is a noble endeavor, but only if those principles are just. I know they deem them to be just and proper, but I disagree, we must stand not just against the bad, but for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Front Porch Republic readers all adhere in some ways to principles that are good and true and beautiful: local authority, productive work, and community involvement. Simply fighting against government action seems to embody none of these attributes in this crisis.
So now we are presented with an interesting question: what would a more localized stand against the virus look like? This is obviously a subjective question, and one that different people will have to answer in the context of their own places. For some, life has slowed down to a near standstill, with people being forced to stay inside or at least stay in their local area except for essential errands. For others, the pace of life has increased dramatically, caring for the sick and being called to the frontlines of the coronavirus fight. The stand that I have taken in my own circumstance is not simply defiance (e.g. against the virus or the government), but a stand for the creating of beautiful and lasting goods.
For those of us whose lives have slowed down quite a bit, we have many choices regarding what to do with this extra time. We could choose to just sit and engage in mindless consumption. With so many different streaming services at our fingertips and most restaurants still doing delivery, we could just consume calories and content. This is the easiest option we have, as it fits into our natural laziness and affinity to do nothing (believe me, I’m criticizing myself here). One need only look at the growing genre of quarantine memes to see people joking about overeating, overdrinking, spending hours playing video games, or binge-watching Tiger King. This consumption is easy yes, but ultimately unfulfilling. There is no beauty in it, no growth personally, spiritually, or mentally. The only thing that will expand will be your waistline. This is why positive action is called for. For me, this is best embodied in three categories or principles to adhere to:
- Creation of Beauty
- Mindfulness over Mindlessness
- Hope over Despair
Creation of Beauty
A virus is by its very nature, destructive. It preys upon a host’s body for its own benefit and destroys the cells of the host until either it or the host is vanquished. It is an ugly, destructive process. Therefore, the most wholly good and true way of standing for positive action is to intentionally create beauty. Humans are naturally artistic and creative beings. Chesterton in The Everlasting Man posits that we truly don’t know anything about prehistoric man except that he was an artist, as that is all he left us. If I am to be remembered for anything in this pandemic, let it be that I made beautiful things.
While you may be reading this online, I wrote it in pen, on actual paper, and in cursive too. Yes, shocking I know. I am also an amateur (emphasis on the amateur) calligrapher, and have built a foundation for myself to create many beautiful pieces. During this time, I am trying to write more, both long and short essays as well as poetry. This essay stands as an example of my humble beginnings in this endeavor. I have also successfully created some poems—from simple haikus, to quatrains following full iambic pentameter, to free verse poems following an (un)heroic couplet format. I have baked several loaves of bread and cooked some delicious homemade meals. My family and I planted a cold weather garden, and the green shoots are just starting to emerge. Finally, I have invited my friends and their friends through Facebook to showcase the beauty they are creating in the world. Community is more important now than ever, and even a virtual community can bring comfort and joy to people. So far, we have posts showcasing cooking, music, knitting, chalk art, gardening, etch-a-sketch art, and much more! Each one is an act of witness to everything good, true, and beautiful that is threatened by this virus.
Mindfulness over Mindlessness
Now, creating beauty sounds well and good, but let me tell you, it takes commitment and intentionality to actually stay the course and finish what I start. If I am going to create beauty in these strange and uncertain times, I must be mindful. Netflix and Facebook are two very powerful black holes that threaten to suck me in, and they would pull me away from any productive activity. To combat this, I have been keeping my regular prayer life as well as continuing to go to (online) church, and I have also started a personal journal detailing what I’m thinking and feeling through this time. By keeping both of these, I am forming a liturgy of my heart and mind, keeping them in sync with each other.
Even before this pandemic, how many of us just let our mind rationalize us out of doing something our heart knew was right because it would be too hard? There is a popular online comic series showing a literal head and heart living together, and their struggles with each other. It’s whimsical but relevant because it’s accurate. If I can defy the lure of mindlessness and intentionally practice what both my head and my heart know to be good, not only will I be able to fulfill principle #1 (such as actually finishing and submitting this piece), but will come out on the other side of this a more resilient and capable person. If I can stand here against a global enemy that has infected millions, killed tens of thousands, and disrupted the lives of millions more, then I will be participating in a larger victory. And, should I contract the virus and succumb to it, I will have fought a good fight, spending my days doing good work. My stand will have been about something more than me. Now this thought, as sobering or morbid as it may seem, leads me squarely into my last principle.
Hope over Despair
Dum spiro, spero. While I breathe, I hope. It would be easy to give up hope, to succumb to the torrent of bad news and be swept along in its current. But that would be too easy. Scattered amongst the official statistics of deaths, infections, and the lack of medical supplies are stories that provide genuine hope. In Denver and the surrounding Front Range, people go outside at 8pm to howl with their neighbors as a sign of solidarity with first responders and emergency workers. People in Italy are out on their balconies singing. There is hope to be found all around us, if we take the time to look.
This, then is the principle that undergirds the other two. To defy the torrent, one must look for the true, the good and the beautiful. For me, I have thinking about the timing of this pandemic. We are entering spring in the Northern Hemisphere. As we continue to receive news about the virus, the world around me is standing in its defiance of death and is turning green. My family’s garden of cold weather plants has survived the spring frosts, and is beginning to come to life. The spring migration has brought the seasonal birds back. The constellation Orion, the herald of winter, is getting lower in the sky, meaning summer is on its way. My worries and cares haven’t hampered the change of the seasons. In addition to this, for Christians around the world, it is the season of Easter, where we contemplate the death and then celebrate the resurrection of Christ. So in this season of death, life is all around us, calling us upward, towards something greater, and yes, more beautiful. This can only be achieved though if we defy the narrative that surrounds us and cultivate within ourselves the fortitude to push back against it.
These three principles form the foundation for a humane and practical response to our current crisis. Rather than choosing something big to stand against, these principles allow us to stand for true creation and community, beginning with ourselves and working outward. By choosing hope over despair, we begin to broaden our vision from what is immediately in front of us towards something higher. By contemplating the wider world and our place in it, we become more mindful, more capable of understanding ourselves and the situation we are in. Finally, we arrive at a place where we can physically create beauty in our lives, ordering our little corner of the planet, and making it more fully our own. And so, these principles move us beyond abstract discussions and become a process by which we can truly stand for something good and just in this crisis, echoing Luther. Here I stand, I can do no other.