A traveler approaches a city, and asks a farmer “what sort of people live in the next town?”
“What were people like where you come from?” replied the farmer.
“Lazy troublemakers, selfish, not trustworthy, I’m glad to be leaving.”
“I’m sorry,” said the farmer, “you’ll find them the same here.”
Another traveler comes by and asks the farmer “What sort of people live here?”
“What are people like where you come from?”
“Honest, hardworking, trustworthy. I’m sorry to be leaving.”
“Have no fear,” said the farmer, “you’ll find them the same here.”
Folktales often contain wisdom that bears repeating, and in this example, one could say the problem or the solution isn’t in the environment, it’s in the person.
For example, The New York Times recently carried the headline: “Americans Spend Grim Easter Sunday at Home as COVID-19 Deaths Near 22,000.” Well, that’s The New York Times for you. Sure, New York is having a hard time, but try looking on the bright side why don’t you?
Most people I know did not have a grim Easter, especially those with Internet or a full bookshelf or a pet or a spouse or some children. In fact staying at home can open up new vistas. I livestreamed religious services from several different faiths that have gone virtual, attended two art classes presented by my daughter over Zoom, checked out books to read from the library through Libby, the library ebook checkout app. I did some writing on my blog and began rewriting a book I’d written years ago but didn’t have the time to do the restructure it needed.
I ate homemade pie with fruit from a farmers’ market, sorted and organized some boxes of papers, finished a book I’d borrowed months ago and “hadn’t had time to finish.”
Since most everyone was at home, I could call them up and talk, and many – who for years were heard only on voicemail – actually picked up. I called my brother who always says something that makes me laugh. Nobody had to rush off to some meeting, but my wife and I were on different videoconferences at the same time. And think of all the happy dogs and cats who get to spend weekdays with their owners!
I do understand that many families were having a difficult time being off work, kids with cabin fever, bills coming due and fear that the virus might harm a friend or family member. All kinds of concerns like: “How will we get through this? What will happen if we get sick? What if we run out of toilet paper?” And while one needs to consider options, follow healthy procedures and weigh alternatives, spreading gloom is never helpful.
The brighter side of this virus includes no traffic jams, cleaner air, empty parks, binge watching “The Good Place” or “Better Call Saul,” lots of silly videos your friends are posting – like the one my wife showed me this morning of The Last Supper with social distancing. You can download Duolingo and practice a language, take a class from Harvard (for free), learn to do some computer coding. If you Google “free online classes” you’ll get back nearly 9 billion results!
And if you insist on the horrific, do it with a twist, and watch the Black Death scene on Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or watch actual footage of Shackelton’s 1914 Antarctic expedition on “Shackelton’s Captain.” Or watch a documentary on World War I, World War II or the Holocaust. In the context of recent history, COVID-19 seems not so scary. When you’re done, you’ll feel a little better about things and you can share with friends.
One’s view of life also affects how they weather this plague. Is life an adventure, or is it merely something to be endured? Is it full of suffering, or does it present opportunity? Yes. And you choose which.
Take the point of view that you want to lift the spirits of those around you, call up some friends or family you haven’t talked to in a long while and listen to what they say. Try to leave them more cheerful than you found them. Tell a neighbor you’re going shopping and ask them if they need anything. And if someone offers to help you, let them – helping others is therapeutic.
So what makes me the expert on this? My wife exemplifies this way of looking at life. And she’s a minister, “someone who helps, who serves.” And in this difficult time, anyone who can help gives a gift that lifts the spirits and lends a brightness to life that will last long after the virus has gone.