Nope! I am sitting here on our back deck surrounded by lush green foliage of our yard's shrubs and long-leaf pines, but isolated physically from neighbors, friends, and family -- especially our delightful granddaughter in California. Isolated is too strong a word for our condition of lock-down during this Covid-19 pandemic. We can venture out for essential services. But although some of our friends and acquaintances stretch the perimeter of safety, we recognize that the spiking of infections wants us not to venture too far, not to believe that we are over this menace that lurks everywhere and continues to reveal ongoing new ways of attacking young and old.
It is wearisome, this new way of life. It is not natural to maintain distance from others; it seems bizarre to keep our faces covered by masks, and to think twice before touching any surface. It is exhausting to never know for sure who we can trust, what we can trust, when we might ever be able to trust again.
But this uncertainty reflects a deeper concern, does it not? I am thinking of the tension between trust and fear. We came into the world gasping for breath and are greeted by lights, noise, sensations that we had never experienced before. Then, there are also the early experiences of our species when we faced danger as part of daily life. This was, in Tennyson's words, "nature red in tooth and claw." We fought for our existence against natural disasters of fire, wind, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, destruction of habitats, and strange tribes of people who battled us for resources of food, shelter, mates, and the right to trailways. This is to say nothing about the animals who wanted to eat us before we could eat them.
And have you noticed how many politicians now use the word "fight?" They thrust out their
chests, stick out their elbows, and assure us that they will fight for us. The political arena has now become mythologized as a battleground. Apparently this works if we are to gauge success by the number of politicians who ride behind the banner of martial arms and a call to war in which the victor will be the one who fights most aggressively!
Lord, have mercy! My plea for mercy is not just for the "opponents" who will be vanquished in the would-be fight, but rather for all of us who have to listen to this ballyhoo that inflames our amygdalas with biochemical resources long evolved in our torturous history of fear and aggression.
Think of the centuries it has taken to evolve such a complex system in which the amygdala sends signals to the pituitary gland, which in turn sends signals to the adrenal gland that releases epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) which finally results in such body changes as an increase in heart rate and blood pressure making possible flight or fight.
We give thanks for our bodies that can protect us either by running when we need to get away, or by fighting when we need to -- or want to. Clearly, we have evolved over many centuries to do battle. And, as the saying goes, if you have a hammer you likely are going to look for nails to use that hammer. In other words, if we have evolved to look for fear -- which we have -- then we are going to fear.
The problem is that we learned to fear before we learned to trust. We do better at waging wars than making peace. What politician can possibly hope to win an election on a peace platform today? So they pose as fighters and tell us about all that we most fear, rather than encourage us to consider what we can accomplish together. I say this as a veteran trained in the way of war with service in Korea as a forward observer and then Executive Officer of an artillery firing battery. So I know very well the necessity of being able to fight, because there are times when we must. There are times when we must because the forces that stoke fear and aggression and domination always stand ready to pounce, and we live in a time when some of those powers are on the move.
However, before I leave my reference to the training provided me by the military to fight, I am glad to remember as well that I was trained not to be "trigger-happy," not to fire out of fear. We were trained to hold our fear in the trust that what we thought we feared might not be fearful at all. We were trained to trust that most people genuinely do want peace, to trust that we would accomplish more working to resolve conflicts than antagonize them, to trust the words on our one-cent piece, the lowly penny, that gives us the formula for peace.
Look at your penny if you do not believe me. On one side you will find the words, "In God We Trust," with the word LIBERTY beside the image of Lincoln. And on the other side of the penny is an image with the Lincoln Memorial, a reminder of the union for which Lincoln worked to preserve, keeping faith (trust) with our past and the dream of all we might yet become as a nation -- a legacy held "in trust" for future generations. We hold the future of our society "in trust," not in fear.
And so, I stretch out in my beach chair, shake off the sand on my flip-flops from last year's visit to the beach, and notice a poem trying to come to mind. I would love to share it with you.
Once in this very world that very year
there came a day
perfect in each dimension:
Width, Depth, Height.
From up on the dunes,
stalky with sea oats drooping with seed
white sand burned, dazzling,
shimmering endlessly to left, to right,
the long white stretch to blue infinity,
Eyes exulting in a blue complexity
of expanding depths and heights.
Pure white foamed along the line
clean from right to left
always right to left
covering and being covered.
Whiter than surf, white clouds cooled,
billowing all over the blue heavens
high, higher, highest.
Our friends laughed stepping,
splashing in white clouds
cooling in blue skies
caught in wet sand;
And a Presence, long absent,
moved once again on the waters.
-- E.S. Worldrige
Winner of Leitch Memorial Prize, 1975
Poetry Society of Virginia