As a rule, denial is a really terrible life-saving strategy, no matter how popular it might be.
Yesterday, I drove past a house party in my neighborhood: thirty or so people crammed into and spilling out of a home; grabbing drinks from coolers and playing corn hole and watching TV on a porch. No social distancing, no careful precautions, and not a mask in sight. It was a scene in every way indistinguishable from one a year ago or even four months ago.
And that’s the problem. It should look different.
It isn’t some day in the near or distant past. It is this moment; one that has been preceded by so much grief, by such collective sacrifice, by so much personal loss. It is this moment in a season of suffering that has decimated our economy, disrupted our normal, altered our plans, and killed well over a hundred thousand people.
These things have happened—and they are still happening, which is the point.
This is a dire global disaster that we are in the devastating middle of, not blissfully emerging from—despite what people who benefit financially or politically from the latter might want you to believe.
Many states in this country (most stewarded by governors beholden to this president and needing the narrative he is perpetuating to be true), have thrown caution and science and sense to the infected wind, and made a decision to fight this ruthless, merciless, murderous health crisis—by simply ignoring it. Even as the new cases and hospitalizations spike sharply, they are doubling down on turning their heads.
Warmer weather, willful ignorance, contempt for science, mistrust of media, sycophantic idolatry, and a coming election are creating a perfect storm of reckless disregard for humanity—and it seems to be a decidedly American affliction.
Surveying the planet right now, other nations aren’t acting like this. We aren’t seeing armed protests against further restrictions, and violent refusals to wear masks at the grocery store, and coffeeshop rants against beleaguered employees enforcing distancing rules—and we aren’t seeing national leaders choosing to combat a catastrophic public health emergency with the strategy of an annoyed five-year-old: to tightly close their eyes, plug their ears, and shout “Nah, nah, nah, nah, I-am-not- listening-to-you!” This is seemingly the sole intellectual property of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I suppose that’s what happens when fierce individualism eclipses interdependent community.
Hey, America—you know you can’t just wish away a pandemic, right?
You can’t simply will it out of existence or trick it into sparing you with positive thinking, or decide that like an angry bee, if you just ignore it, it won’t bother you.
You can’t distract it with nationalistic fervor or fool it with partisan talk shows or make it swoon with patriotic songs or drown it in a relentless wave of all-caps tweets declaring it a defeated foe. That will not cut it.
Viruses have no respect for your bravado, hold no regard for your politics, don’t give a damn about your religious affiliation, and aren’t interested in your slick conspiracy videos dismissing them.
They will attack you without favoritism and you won’t have a say in it.
And when that happens, your strategy of wishful thinking will fail you.
When you are being internally ravaged by a vicious intruder with no obstacles to you, you’ll want something more than willful ignorance to defend you.
When people you love are gravely ill, you won’t be able to simply pretend they aren’t lying in a hospital room, unable to take the next breath without a machine forcing their brutalized lungs to expand and contract.
You won’t be able to wish them alive once their bodies lose the battle to function.
Your politics and your arrogance won’t keep you from planning a premature funeral for them simply because the task is unpleasant.
I wonder if it will be worth it then: if that searing loss and the permanent separation and the scar tissue on your lungs and the empty chairs, will have been worth the tapas you had today or the house party you went to for a few hours or the political rally you attended one afternoon.
I wonder if your strident, middle finger politics now will be a consolation then, when you realize that he is not going to help you.
I wonder, if you one day end up with a front-row seat to the heartbreaking truth of this pandemic, if you’ll try to wish that away too.
Maybe respecting and confronting reality right now will save you from needing to escape it later.
Maybe you should wear a mask, sacrifice for someone else along with the rest of us, and stop complaining about the greatest public health threat of our lifetimes just because you’re lucky enough not to be planning a funeral right now.
To borrow your party line: Pandemics don’t care about your feelings.
John Pavlovitz is a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina. A 25-year veteran in the trenches of local church ministry, John is committed to equality, diversity, and justice—both inside and outside faith communities. When not actively working for a more compassionate planet, John enjoys spending time with his family, exercising, cooking, and having time in nature. He is the author of A Bigger Table, Hope and Other Superpowers, and Low.