I Am Struggling and That’s Okay
“The only salmon not struggling is the dead one floating away into the ocean.”
I keep an eye on the blog of Rod Dreher, the author of The Benedict Option. I wondered what his take would be on the new “resistance.” That is, the protests against the information about COVID-19 and the restrictions on life as “normal.” Today’s news is full of pictures of armed protestors at various state capitols. Some call the pandemic a hoax while others insist it is their constitutional “right” to go about their lives as usual.
(All this, alas, is a disturbing counter to my attempt yesterday, inspired by Rebecca Solnit, to focus on our better natures in such times of crisis.)
So what is going on? Why this turn to conspiracy theories, the disregard for scientific evidence and medical experts, and the insistence that we be done with social distancing and any restrictions on our activity yesterday? Of course, the President egging the protesters on gives it sanction from on high.
Dreher says it’s about control. “If there’s one thing we modern Americans — liberals and conservatives, secular and religious — cannot stand, it’s the thought that we aren’t in control of our lives. It is our collective idol, especially for the middle class. Again, let me make clear to you that I’m talking to myself too.”
“We Americans clearly do not take disruption in stride. Look at us now. For us middle-class Christians, what has been uncovered is our inability to cope with the possibility of sacrifice. It scares us to death. Many of us are prepared to believe anything rather than accept the radical sacrifices that fighting this pandemic calls for — and this is what the Ohio letter-writer is getting at (see blog at link above for more from “Ohio letter writer.”)
“No, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t question the authorities’ decision-making. I concede that maintaining a high degree of lockdown, as we are supposedly doing now, is not going to be possible for the length of time we will probably need for scientists to come up with a vaccine. I further concede that if I were one of the 22 million Americans who lost their job this past month, I would probably be a lot more prone to radical thoughts too.”
Toward the end of Dreher’s blog on this recent surge of protest, with the conspiracy theories and claim of upholding our constitutional rights to do whatever we damn well please, he quotes a FB post from an Orthodox priest (Dreher is Orthodox, which means his Easter is tomorrow, April 19). It is a very insightful post, which concludes with a line I’ve used as the title of this post. “I’m struggling and that’s okay.” Here’s that priest (name withheld).
“In the absence of universal and reliable testing, there are no meaningful statistics on how many Americans now carry the COVID-19 virus without symptoms. I understand the need for the reassurance that comes from passing on a narrative we find reliable, or even alarming: we feel more in control if we can feel have inside information.” (That observation accounts for the appeal of conspiracy theories now on the rise.)
“But is it ‘okay’ to be out of control? It is okay to admit we are suffering without anyone we personally can influence to make it stop.
“Read the Psalms: God is not insulted by honesty. King David repeatedly pours out his suffering: ‘How long, Lord? How much longer will my tears be my only food? Will you forget us forever?
“I’ve seen macho men at funerals, socially expected to be tough: they were unable to express any emotion except anger, and turning everything into anger ate up their guts inside. Allow yourself the freedom to experience your suffering, your frustration, your grief and your helplessness, and have the honesty to express it, at least to God.
“American popular religion treats ‘I am struggling’ as a danger sign or a symptom of failure. Outgrow this attitude. The only salmon who is not struggling is the dead one floating away into the ocean. Every fish that is pressing further up and further in is struggling, and that means they are alive and have hope. I am struggling at the moment and that’s okay.”
The priest’s observation that anger is the only emotion available for many men is sad but all too true.
My impression is that many, if not most, Americans, are coping pretty well. We may be struggling. but as the priest says, that’s okay. We should be. It’s a minority embracing conspiracy theories, strapping on guns (to fight an invisible virus?), and calling for no interruption to their normal. But, as noted a few days ago, “If it’s outrageous, it leads.”