COPYRIGHT 2020 DEBRA LITTLEJOHN SHINDER
Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.Benjamin Franklin
I keep hearing from the shutdown advocates that “our priority must be preventing deaths.”
News flash: You’ve set an impossible goal. You can’t ever prevent death; you can only delay it. We’re all going to die, someday, of something. And none of us knows when that will be.
About forty years ago, I saw a movie on Lifetime, of all places, that made this point to me and that I’ve never forgotten. It was about a young woman who was diagnosed with cancer and had sunk into misery over the thought that she would soon die and leave her husband and little daughter, who would grow up without her.
She got treatment but stayed depressed and certain she was going to die soon. Then one day after going in for regular tests she gets a call from her doctor that her cancer appears to be in remission. She tries to call her husband with the wonderful news but he doesn’t answer. Ten minutes later, she gets a call telling her he’s been killed in an auto accident.
The takeaway (at least for me): We’re all terminal. The one who appears healthy and destined for decades more living ahead may be gone long before the sickly one. We don’t know. And because we don’t know, we need to make the most of every precious day we’re granted.
Consider this: Quality of life matters as much as quantity. Too many people let fear of death keep them from living at all.
My mom was like that in her later years. Over the course of growing up, I watched her change from a happy, outgoing “most popular mom on the block (with the kids)” when I was in elementary school to a scared, sad old lady who was terrified to drive or ride in a car that got on the freeway or went over a bridge, afraid to leave the house except to go to church or the grocery store three blocks away, spending her days and nights worrying about everything from disease to auto accidents to nuclear attacks. She had always been afraid to learn to swim, afraid of boats/ships, and afraid to fly, but the scope of the phobia kept expanding as time went on.
She called herself a homebody but it wasn’t just that she loved her home (though she did) — she was afraid to venture far from it. It was both her sanctuary and her prison.
Because of her fears, her life was much more limited than it might have been. And she was okay with that. But what really breaks my heart is that because of her fears, my dad’s life was also limited. Daddy loved to go places and do things. He told me more than once “I wish so much that Sue (my mom) wasn’t so afraid to travel.”
Now, I want to make it clear that she never tried to keep him from doing what he wanted to do. He was heavily involved in city civic events and he and I went to them together but I know he wished she would go with him more (she did go to the Chamber of Commerce banquet the year he got Man of the Year and that meant a lot to him).
She was fine with Daddy taking road trips with me and the kids. We drove to Arizona when my daughter moved out there after graduating from high school and we drove up to Great Lakes IL when she got married. But I know it would have made him happier if mom had been along. And I know there were a lot of trips that he didn’t go on because he didn’t want to leave mom home all alone even though she said it was okay.
When I was an early teen and her condition was worsening, I “caught” it – became a hypochondriac who thought I had every fatal disease I read about (and I read a lot of medical stuff) and had anxiety attacks. It was my dad who saved me from following in her footsteps.
They were both Christians but in very different ways. Mom went to church every Sunday; Dad stopped attending when he saw church politics destroy a good pastor – but he was the most genuinely spiritual man I’ve ever known. He lived his faith every day of his life. When I talked to him about my anxiety attacks and about mom, his philosophy was “To me, worrying about bad things happening means you don’t really have faith in God.”
He never overtly criticized her, about anything, and that was probably the closest I ever heard him come. And I, being a teenager who was at the point of questioning everything, said what if you don’t believe in God? He thought about that for a minute and then said “well, then it seems to me like it’s even more important to not let being afraid keep you from living your life if you believe this one is the only one you’ve got.” It made sense to me. But then Daddy almost always did.
I looked at the two role models in my life and I made the conscious choice to emulate my dad. Oh, I’m my mother’s child and I’ll always have that “worry gene” hiding somewhere inside — but when it rears its ugly head, I remind myself that it’s the enemy; I think about what it did to the woman who gave me life, and I vow not to waste my life agonizing over things that may or may not happen and over which I have no control.
Freedom is not only a gift, but a summons to personal responsibility.
– Pope Benedict XVI
We who now advocate reopening our country and giving back the freedom for adults to make responsible choices regarding their health are constantly being told “No, because your choices affect other people. If you go out, you’ll give the virus to the old gent at the post office or the immune-compromised mother at the grocery store.”
But there’s a huge fallacy in that argument. Nobody is suggesting that those who are vulnerable should be forced to go out. And if they stay home and stay isolated, no, I won’t give the virus to them. If you’re in a high risk group, or if you’re not but you’re just afraid, you can still stay home. That is your right and I’ll always defend it.
But when you support continuing the lockdown, you do to me (and all the rest who aren’t afraid) the same thing my mom did to my dad. And you’re doing it out of unreasonable fear just as she did. You are affecting our lives. We want you to be able to make your own choices but you don’t want us to be able to do the same.
I’ve asked over and over how my being able to go out puts a vulnerable person at risk if they stay home and isolate and nobody has answered me. The best they can do (which is a change of subject) is to say “well, you don’t know whether you might be at risk and don’t know it — some young, healthy people have died, too.”
Okay, yes — a few have (very few), but I’m willing to take that risk. Every time I get into a car, I take a risk that some drunk driver could take me out. Every time I walk down my street, I take a risk that a drive-by madman could shoot me or run over me with his vehicle. Every time I take a bite of food, I take a risk that it could be accidentally or deliberately poisoned. Any time I go to a doctor, I take a risk that a mistake could kill me. Any time I go out in the yard, I take a risk that a snake could bite me or a mosquito could give me West Nile.
And speaking of that — people die of West Nile. What do we do to “prevent” that from happening? We use insect repellent and empty standing water and sometimes cities spray the area. We don’t shut down the economy and lock everyone in their houses during mosquito season. Why is it more important to “prevent” deaths from COVID than from West Nile? Is it about sheer numbers? Do individual deaths not matter?
But if numbers rule, then what about the 3,639 people who died in Texas auto accidents last year? (517 have died from COVID as of this writing). We could have “prevented” (delayed) the deaths of many of those people by enforcing a strict speed limit of 10 mph, or banning motor vehicles altogether. Why didn’t we do that? Why do those deaths matter less?
Death, my dear ones, is a part of life. It’s not just the human condition; it’s the condition of every living thing. I don’t like it; in fact, I don’t like it at all — but there it is. And it’s knowing that life has an end that makes our time on this planet so precious. But life is not just physical subsistence. Life is more than just breathing and existing.
Living is about going and doing. It’s about the satisfaction of performing meaningful work. It’s about being with the people you love. It’s about seeing new places and new things. It’s about making choices and yes, taking risks.
Please, let us get back to living our lives while we still can. Too many days and weeks that we’ll never get back have already been stolen from us. Stay home if you want — I adamantly support your right to do so. Please return the favor and support my right not just to exist but to live.
P.S. Speaking of taxes: the longer you keep the world locked down, the higher mine (and yours) are going to be. Just one more way in which you’re affecting my life.