Being on the sideline for the covid-19 and economic crisis has begun to drive me crazy. I had been taking a philosophical approach. Keeping up with family and friends, even while sequestered. Reading, thinking, exercising, meditating. Telling myself that I might transform this terrible time into something useful. Read and learn, maybe write a book. I have encouraged myself to be grateful for the opportunity.
And trying not to fight what is and what is beyond my capacity to influence. Isn’t that the point of Niebuhr’s great Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
But with each passing day, with each infusion of bad news, as the world as I know it seems to grind to an agonizing halt, calm and gratitude have begun to give way to frustration and anger—and a desire to do something. Where time had slowed down—my god, the days have felt long—they are now speeding up. Every day, seemingly every hour, I learn something about the crises that alarm me. I had been ready for a two or three week of sequestering, but two days ago I learned that it might be two months, then three and six and nine months. Then a full year. Maybe two.
Now time is speeding up and it only makes sense to project myself far into the future in order to figure out what to do now.
As I observe the viral and economic crises feeding one another like starving and angry beasts, it is already easy to imagine a second Great Depression where, once again, nations hunker down and, at the same time, needing someone to blame, fan the flames of ancient resentments and bigotries—as they had during the 1920’s and 1930’s. This, as much as an unchained plague, we must guard against. We need to bring the possibility into the public conversation.
I believe we have to imagine the future, in its best and worst incarnations, and act now with every arrow in our quivers. A century ago, we responded to the Great Depression with enormous vigor, intelligence, and daring. There were mistakes but we were not afraid. We allowed for mistakes. Because that’s just part of experimentation. We didn’t condemn the efforts. That’s what this time calls for.
And we need leadership. I don’t know that it will arise from Washington, where it is most needed. Maybe from the states and the cities. And from educational institutions. Just yesterday, Anthony Monoco, President of Tufts offered the university’s dorms for hospital beds and suggested other universities do the same. What a good idea. New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, urged Washington to bring the full resources of the US Armed Forces to bear. And Rachel Maddow on MSNBC has passionately called for the continued flow of trustworthy information and innovative ideas. All along, Tedros Adhanom, Director of the World Health Organization, has urged us to come together to fight the dragons. And, as we have come to expect, there are so many local institutions—churches, synagogues, and nonprofits among them—who are keeping in touch keeping good conversations going.
Leadership and imagination can come from all of us, too—all the people on the sideline. As we watch, we learn and we can reach out. We mustn’t yield to passivity. We must raise our voices.
Throughout history, there have been floods and contagions. There have been hideous dictators and corrosion in the moral fabric of nations. But generations after generations have always fought back. And we need to do that now—even from the sidelines. I don’t know exactly how but I’d like to hear ideas from all of you.