For some, this time of social distancing and pandemic lockdown evokes solidarity with a writer behind These Stone Walls who has some long-practiced tips for coping.
I have always been interested in etymology, the study of linguistics and the origins of words. The term is sometimes confused with entomology, the study of insects, which makes me wonder about the etymology of entomology. It has been bugging me for years.
Sometimes, the modern use of a word has little to do with its original meaning. The word, “dwell” is an example. It means to reside in a given place or state of mind as in, “to dwell here” or “to dwell on a tragedy.” Its strange origin is in the Old English/Welch term, “dwellan” which means to mislead. That made no sense to me until I began to dwell on the strange place in which I have dwelled for the last 25+ years.
There are few places on Earth where people are more easily misled than in a prison. Here my fellow citizens often have little more to do than dwell on the past and mislead themselves about the future. Robbed of optimism, they tend to fall into one of two political “parties”: those obsessed with news of the world in every waking moment, and those so repelled by current events that they leave the world behind in ignorant bliss.
I sometimes envy the latter. Some began their days in prison as twenty-something year-olds in endless fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. Now they are approaching forty and still doing the same thing. Whenever I call their attention to something going on in the world, they look at me as though I am speaking Latin. They wonder how I could have such an interest.
I have not eliminated my fascination with the world of ideas and politics, but I did have to cut back when this global pandemic was unleashed. I found myself trying hard to be fair to all the political disparities among the cable news pundits by giving equal time between CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Then I discovered that I am probably the only person in America doing that.
Everyone else seems to have become entrenched in one position. These are the people who mistakenly see the rhetoric of cable news pundits as actual and legitimate broadcast journalism. On Fox News, President Trump can do no wrong. On CNN, he can do no right. On MSNBC, he is the antichrist.
On the day I write this, I saw a news report of a survey showing that 62-percent of Americans trust their state governor’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic compared to only 32-percent who trust the President’s approach. Surveys like this seem driven by people who are more swayed by their preferred news venue than informed by it. So one of my pandemic lockdown coping strategies is to spend less time affirming my own views through the cable news pundits and more time outside walking. Back to that in a moment.
In his recent weekly Wall Street Journal column, Editor at Large Gerard Baker wrote “A Murky Crisis Meets All-Too-Certain Pundits.” I know you may not be able to see it without a subscription, but Mr. Baker wrote about an incident that highlights for him how a pandemic can be influenced more by politics than by science. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, who has been countering the President’s daily Covid-19 briefings with his own, said he would need 30,000 ventilators from the federal government to deal with the looming crisis.
In rebuttal, the White House countered that 30,000 ventilators are not available and it is likely that New York will actually need far less. The cable news pundits on CNN and MSNBC, along with some late night comedians and a few of Hollywood’s elite, went immediately into high gear, condemning the President and his staff for mismanaging the crisis by being badly misinformed.
In the end, to the almost complete absence of acknowledgment at CNN, MSNBC, or The New York Times, less than 10,000 ventilators were needed in New York. Governor Cuomo started quietly shipping his excess ventilators to other states. It is no secret in the news business that the news media polls very low in public trust, the same public that nonetheless seems all-too-willing to let the media do their thinking for them.
THINGS COULD BE WORSE – AND HAVE BEEN
As part of my own Pandemic Lockdown Coping Strategy, I have become far more selective about the pundits I let in. Along with just about the entire nation, I admire and trust Dr. Anthony Fauci and his well-informed assessments based on a mix of science and reality. I wonder if any of you were as repulsed as I was by CNN’s repeated interviews with actor Sean Penn who lectured America on how the military could manage the pandemic.
On the same night Sean Penn first appeared, FOX News interviewed retired General Jack Keane who speaks impressively and solidly on military matters. I also listened intently to a Fox News interview with a most impressive public figure, former Navy Seal and now U.S. Congressman Daniel Crenshaw who discussed his book, Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage.
I am awaiting a copy and look forward to reviewing it for These Stone Walls. A book on fortitude and resilience from someone whose life experience required both seems a better tool for coping with a pandemic than Sean Penn’s advice for the military.
Dan Crenshaw’s basic point is that “Things could be worse,” and have been worse. I will no longer listen to the all-too-certain pundits recruited from Hollywood to enlightening us on the dangers we face from Covid-19 and a President subjected to little beyond contempt by the news media and Hollywood elite. How could it not be clearer that Americans’ disgust with this is what put him in office in the first place?
I hope that does not sound like a political rant. It is not meant to be. I am actually a life-long Democrat, now an Independent, who became so because I can no longer support, or even recognize, the present Democratic Party. That statement alone will cost me the support of family and some friends, but it is a truth slowly emerging in America’s collective conscience.
I have also discovered that I cope better when I write the truth without filtering it through my genuine wish never to offend anyone. I hear from many priests who tell me that they fear the alienation and lack of acceptance that may come with taking a moral stand on life itself.
There has been something strange happening at These Stone Walls since I wrote my January post, “March for Life: A New Great Awakening.” Since then, I have seen repeated references to what is perceived as a looming Great Awakening as one possible result of this pandemic. I do not pretend to have coined the term, but there has been a noticeable change on TSW because of it.
PUSHBACK AGAINST THE MORAL APOCALYPSE
Linked within that post was one I wrote five years ago entitled, “Planned Parenthood: An American Horror Story.” I expected to be condemned and ridiculed over it, but that never happened (that I know of). It was an unusual post that I think left some readers scratching their heads about the point it made.
It examined the plots of three television series of the last decade that were very popular at the time that post was written. The series were: The Walking Dead (which continues on AMC), Falling Skies (which reached its conclusion after three seasons), and The Last Ship (which moved from network TV to Netflix which I cannot see).
I chose those three series because each dealt with a global pandemic even though I wrote the post five years before the current one. The series were very popular and that came as a surprise because their plots had remarkable pro-life themes. I wrote in that post that these TV series became popular because each touched an exposed nerve in the collective American psyche even if viewers were not conscious of it.
In the five years since I wrote the ‘Planned Parenthood” post, it continued to be read, but seldom shared. By January of 2020 it had accumulated about 400 shares on Facebook, the usual barometer for a blog post’s impact. But in the three months since the current pandemic became a threat, that post suddenly leapt to about 30,000 shares on Facebook.
I can only surmise what might be behind that surge. In recent months, the post was shared a number of times on some pro-life dedicated Facebook pages, none of which I have ever seen because I have never even seen Facebook.
But those pages themselves are seeing a surge in attention, and I believe this is related to the current pandemic and the attention it brings to matters of life and death. I hope you will read, ponder, and share “Planned Parenthood: An American Horror Story.”
Times of crisis always reorient our personal and collective value systems, and coping with the current crisis requires that we let it. Clinging to partisan beliefs just because we once believed them no longer works in a time of crisis. This one, like all others, requires unity and sanity. The place where we have been since 1973 lacks both.
I do have one regret, however, that you may also be able to help with. That “Planned Parenthood” post also found its way onto the “Most Popular Posts” feature on These Stone Walls that you can see if you scroll down the Home Page. It is driving down another one that may end up dropping from the list. It is a post that is still very much on my mind, and not only because I wrote it. It’s about a truth that I exposed because it is the truth, one that terrorized Catholic priests for over two decades.
You could help keep it on that “Most Popular Posts” list front and center where justice requires that it should stay. Most priests will not comment on that post for fear of being marked by the homegrown terrorists who propagated the story it exposed in “David Clohessy Resigns SNAP in Alleged Kickback Scheme.”
A WALK TO REMEMBER
A long-time reader of These Stone Walls in my ancestral land in the north of Scotland knows the immense value of long morning walks. And while on these walks, she brings a smart phone with a camera. She has also opened a GTL connection with my tablet enabling her to email some photos from her morning walk directly to my prison cell.
It seems almost surreal for me – after 25 years separated from the world – to see in real time on my tablet a photo from my friend’s early morning walk in Scotland. Just as I started to write this post, I received a 15-second audio/video clip of her walk through a forest listening to the first cuckoos of Spring in Scotland. I had a fleeting wish that I could send her a clip of some of the cuckoos I listen to each day. In November she snapped a striking photo of Eileen Donan Castle, ancestral home of Clan MacRae, bedecked in the flag of Saint Andrew, Patron of Scotland. At the opening of the annual Highland Games, my friend also sent three short video/audio clips of a parade of pipers and drums marching by.
As much as these are treasures that I preserve on my tablet to see again and again, I have also been moved by details of the walk itself. My tablet now has scenes of wildflowers newly bloomed on Easter morn, a video/audio clip of cuckoos calling for mates, and some wonderful footage of the wind in the blooming heather. There is another of gulls calling from the roaring surf of Bow Fiddle Rock in the North Sea. This reader once sent a message asking whether these sights depress me in prison. Just the opposite is true. They help to sustain me.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Shane O’Mara has a wonderful article entitled “Why Walking Matters – Now More Than Ever” (WSJ “Review,” April 18-19, 2020). You may not be able to see all of it without a subscription so I will cover some of its salient points. Shane O’Mara is a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College, Dublin, and author of “In Praise of Walking: a New Scientific Exploration” to be published later this month by W.W. Norton.
Dr. O’Mara writes that walking changes our outlook, and in this time of being “hunkered down” it is a challenge, but more important than ever. With work sites, gyms, and most activity closed, a walk outside may be the only exercise still left to us in a global pandemic.
It is also, as Dr. O’Mara asserts, “a behavioral preventative against depression.” It produces proteins in the muscles and brain called “myokines and neutrophic factors” that assist in the growth of cells, the regulation of metabolism, and the reduction of inflammation. I loved this concluding paragraph:
- “Walking is the movement that we all benefit from and have evolved for. Walk we must, and walk we should, to keep our mental and physical worlds open and to stop the walls from closing in.”
From my perspective, anything that stops the walls from closing in is worthy of pursuit. That has never been more true in prison than in the last few months as the pandemic of Covid-19 has shut down schools, work sites, communal religious activities, and government offices. In New Hampshire, which as of this writing has experienced under one hundred deaths related to Covid-19 statewide, it has just been announced that the shutdown will continue through May and schools will remain closed until September.
Even in prison, we will return to some sense of normalcy, but I wonder what our world and our faith will be like when it is over. Prepare for it by turning off whatever screen you are looking at (umm, after you read this post, of course) and start walking. You may be amazed by how much clearer it makes you feel and think, and believe. And help others as best you can. That is the best tool for coping.
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Editor’s Note: Before your walk, you may also wish to ponder that the day the above is posted is the Feastday of Our Lady of Fatima. Honor her with these related posts:
- How I Met Your Mother: Mary and the Fatima Century
- Our Lady of Guadalupe Led Pornchai Moontri From His Prisons
- For Those Who Look at the Stars and See Only Stars
- Finding Your Peace in Suffering and Sorrow