Three weeks ago, without knowing it at all, we lived in a different world, the land of Before. In the land of Before we could live our lives without compulsive hand-washing, daily government briefings and closed everythings. With a few government edicts, we departed Before and we’ll never walk its shores again. Before is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
Today we sail the Sea of During, having set sail from Before. Our trip across During is not just uncharted but would have been nearly unimaginable last month. Other than survivalists, few of us dreamed During even existed—until we found ourselves gone from Before, the knowledge slowly dawning that we’d never said goodbye; in fact, we’d never even known we lived in Before.
Before is behind us. During offers the only route to After. Unlike a journey from Spain to the New World, though, traveling from Before to After isn’t simply a matter of arriving and discovering. Columbus sailed looking for copper and ended up finding gold, but that’s because the gold was already there, buried in the ground. Instead, it is how we enact our journey to After that will determine the copper, the gold or the wasteland we will find there. Columbus didn’t know what he’d find when he set sail, and neither do we. Columbus’ journey, though, didn’t determine destination—ours does. Let me try to explain.
None of us knows how wide the lake or ocean of During is. We can’t guess how long we will be locked in our cabins or, better, our individual boats lashed together by history, by circumstances, by the universe. If on our journey across During we are kind, considerate, gentle, loving and lighthearted, we will discover an After where these things are valued and encouraged. Likewise, if our journey values selfishness, blame, shame, anger and deceit, that is the After we will discover, for that is what we will have created.
On this journey we test drive the philosophical system on which to build our After. If we search the history of Before, we can find justification for an inhuman utilitarian model. From Robespierre (or Napoleon or Lenin, depending upon whom you believe) we have, “You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet.” From Machiavelli the same sentiment “The ends justify the means.” In both, we find the greater good, as defined of course by the speaker, outweighing the value of the individual or commonplace ethics. This “greater good” always fails to define either “greater” or “good.”
On the other hand, our journey can be person-centered, ethical and joyful. We can be the action we want, we can model forgiveness, we can stretch out our arms to the world while maintaining a six-foot distant. We can know the means are the ends, what and how we live the journey determines where we will arrive.
A few days ago, I quoted Walker Percy at some length, words some correspondents thought were dark or harsh. I thought they were stoic, but that’s a different conversation for another day. Today I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors. Please sew it into pillows, write it on your lintels, engrave it on your heart.
“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”—Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Followed by a quote from one of my favorite songwriters:
Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight
—Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Amen and amen and amen.
Be kind. Make us play nice. And remember
You matter. I matter. We matter.
March 31, 2020