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  • Loren Niemi

The Thinking Behind a Little Video



I've been thinking a lot about America in a time of Covid and the rise of the Delta variant. Over the month of August, I’ve posted about it on Facebook a couple of times and am putting those diverse thoughts together here as the background for the video I hope you will watch that is at the end of this blog.


I will begin this with a portion of a 2013 Facebook, post: "My father was the last of his generation and now we (siblings) are orphans. Come to being the the keepers of family lore and the makers of family decisions late but here we are, without living parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts - a mixed jumble of birth order with our various emotional skills or lack of them trying to work through this moment with each other."


True that. Thinking about the current surge of the Delta variant, I am aware of how many children (whatever their age) that are suddenly orphans. Hundreds of thousands.


Whether they are vaccinated or not, wherever they are on the political spectrum of response to the Pandemic, the fact of any Covid death is that in most cases there is someone left behind. Someone is suddenly a widow or widower, suddenly an orphan. Unplanned and in many cases, unprepared for the loss and the grief that follows. Unplanned and unprepared for funerals, for the thicket of insurance or lack of insurance, of wills, estates, taxes, and all the legal formalities that follow death in America.


Let us be truthful, the cost of Covid is not just economic, political, or cultural. The emotionally wounded, grief-stricken orphans, are a growing population in a nation divided between those who are doing everything they can to end this and those who think “freedom” is putting themselves and others at risk. For the left behind, the question of whether you should have done X or Y, whether the lack of a vaccination or mask was a justifiable risk or callous irresponsibility, pales in comparison to the fact that death has taken someone and left us to carry on amid grief and loss.


These deaths, individually and collectively, are a diminishment of the future and of all the relationships that are severed in their wake.


I've had a half dozen conversations in the last few weeks with friends, artists, teachers, folks (shaken to the core by the rising wave of stupidity than has made for the pandemic resurgence) that have revolved around wondering how much longer they can do what they are doing. Not just the work but also to continue "turning the other cheek", in bothering to offer simple respect or courtesy for those who are putting us at continued risk. The vaccinated are fast losing patience with the unvaccinated.


Hope is elusive and many of the folks I am talking with hate themselves for thinking that somehow it is their fault, a result of bad choices or bad luck rather than endemic to the times, culture and economy. All around them they see selfishness undermining recovery and yes, the stress of surviving is a terrible drag on the spirit and that's when we need each other to listen, to assist if we can, to say, " we are in this together" and "you are valuable and loved for who you are as well as for what you do."


So many of them have lost faith in humanity. Their expectation that even self-interest would allow for taking precautions is shaken by the utter irrationality that says masks are ineffective but swallowing an animal deworming substance is an appropriate treatment. Or as I heard a radio minister say that vaccinations are a “sin” against the faith that God will protect you, without once considering that God’s protection IS the development of a vaccine.


Leave aside the futility of trying to convince anti-vax folks that they are the breeding ground for Covid Delta and their selfishness is why we can't have nice things. One can pray they are capable of a change of heart or behavior but I don't expect it. The argument for Nature using Covid to "cull the herd" begins to look reasonable in the face of the politicalization of the pandemic.


This is the moment when I should suggest the need for three kinds of pandemic stories. The first is the stories of those who we have lost. The stories survivors and orphans tell of parents, grandparents, siblings, children and the lives lived and shared. The stories that keep their names and spirit before us, that mark the meaning of family and friendship. The second are the stories of those who are on the front lines of the “world turned upside down” – doctors, nurses, yes, but also store clerks, waiters/waitresses, truck drivers, farm workers, all the "essential personnel" who actually have kept us from having this be worse than it is. These are the stories of heroism in the ordinary and should be told with a mix of respect, awe and gratitude. The third are metaphors and allegories which can help us understand the meanings of this time and place. Stories that take one step back to let us see context and provide a container for the emotional and philosophical.


Let me go to a deeper point – that the Pandemic is an invitation not only for stories but for conversations. Some we may be reluctant to have. Some that are made all the harder because of the politicalization itself.


The difficulty with postponing hard conversations is that often they do not get easier with the passage of time. What value is there in waiting to have "that" conversation about the effectiveness and necessity Covid vaccines, the harm of White privilege and systemic racism, abusive relationships, alcohol or drug addiction, etc. or any conversation that we fear can easily go off the rails or result in further harm? Frustrations of unmet expectations, confusion about choices or courses of action, the anxiety of unasked and unanswered questions become barriers to being able to listen to one another. And yet, if we do not try, the possibility of understanding, respect or change is denied us and amplifies the harm we experience.


I am going to suggest that it is worth the difficulty. That when we trust ourselves (and by extension each other) to be here listening with an open heart, looking toward the best within each other, we can offset our fear with compassion. You cannot be responsible for another's actions or reactions, but you can be responsible for your own. It does not necessarily make those conversations or the decisions that follow any easier or the outcome what we want it to be, but it lets us take a step back from the self-harm of not acknowledging my pain or yours to what is possible (at least for ourselves) in this moment, to the now and next, instead of being stuck in then or should have.


Much of my thinking has been condensed into a commentary with two stories that I did for Democratic Visions. Here is link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Uxd_uJXREAMy bit is right up front, but I would also suggest that it is worth watching my (often) performing partner, Howard Lieberman’s commentary which compliments and amplifies my second story.