Pandemic obedience, like a trappist monk

The pandemic and its ensuing emotional toll has been straining relationships among friends and families.

A recent column by writer Andree Seu Peterson in World Magazine has stuck with me. The article, entitled "One family's corona story" wasn't yet another of the expected articles I've come to avoid. I'm done hearing about all of the worst-case scenarios, the hospital drama in New York, and all of the rest which has come to feel like a trickling out of limited material for unlimited time in order to keep fear high. "Only the worst and most bad stories! Nothing to highlight anything that won't feed fear and obedience!"

Peterson had a different story to tell, and it's one I've seen firsthand as well as have heard others describe. It's one that is more common than all the NYC hospital drama, and one that will have far-reaching effects that few are talking about. It's the strange story of how human relationships are taking a hit during the pandemic, particularly among family and friends.

The story starts with what seems like an innocuous family visit, and the normally mundane details of fixing food. She went to bed early because she felt unusually tired. Shortly after, she had a fever and some chills. So, she took a few painkillers for a headache. The next morning, she felt fine.

The woman felt fine in the morning but casually mentioned the symptoms to the adult son who stopped in to pay his respects to his uncle. She did that some moments after giving him a reflexive hug at the front door—not thinking. In mothers’ logic, “stranger germs” are bad but “family germs” can’t hurt. A quorum decided she should get tested for the virus, which was done while the brother hung out with aged father (the main purpose for the visit). Test results TBA in two to four days.

I've seen this, the blame and anger and outrage among friends and family members for what we'd normally consider innocent or good behavior. That normal, human behavior has now been categorized--by experts! by leaders!--as dangerous and foolish is shocking. We are all sticking each other's noses in everyone's health business, particularly those who are in the older demographic. We are concerned for ourselves, but hide it as concern for others. "I'm wearing my mask because I care, why don't you?" is not the question a caring person asks, but instead, the question a manipulative, controlling, and fearful person asks.

The author continues describing how her family reacted:

Enter the two millennial sons. Fastidious as Trappist monks when it comes to the pandemic protocols, they were angry to find their mother had gone out to an open-air restaurant with granddad in tow, even after she had felt symptoms. Never having got the pandemic rules down pat, the benighted woman lamely protested that she had been visited by only a couple of unpleasantries on the corona checklist, and that sunlight and fresh air are virus nemeses.

It has amazed me how everyone's health is everyone's business. I remember why HIPAA was necessary. Do you remember the days of HIV and AIDS as it first came on the radar? It was necessary to protect the health status or some people wouldn't be hired. Yet suddenly, we talk about people's test results or potential illness with other family members and employees and demand to know the ZIP codes of where positive tests results are located "for community safety," ignoring the cardinal rule of health privacy and personal choice. Did you know that people used to burn down the houses of those they knew to have leprosy? That happened in this country. And while this coronavirus is nothing like leprosy, the way people are behaving would lead you to believe otherwise. Who has it? Where do they live? Where did they go? We must know for our safety!

On Day 2 of the visit the brother checked in with his wife in North Carolina, and they talked. She was very concerned about her sister-in-law’s possible corona illness because they have children and grandchildren coming to North Carolina from Colorado in mid-July, and now this! She told her husband he shouldn’t even be in the same house with the woman. Which in hindsight might have been the smartest early cost-benefit decision.

The elephant in the room every day of the visit was the test results, which were so annoyingly slow in coming, and upon which the good-naturedness of all parties hinged.

Ultimately, we are told that the safest choice is abandonment and separation. Leave the leper alone. It's the smart thing, the right thing, the only humane thing. Remove yourself and maybe come back in two weeks when the scarlet C is removed from person.

During that limbo period the two sons snatched their grandfather away to safety at their houses till the holy grail of CVS conferring “clean” or “unclean” status would turn up in the emails. They expressed annoyance at likely having to forfeit long-anticipated vacation plans. The no-longer-feverish-but-occasionally-headachy woman had a neighbor (whose flower bed she had weeded a week earlier) who was freaked out too. All of which unexpected reactions made the woman at the center of the COVID storm start to feel her good standing in the family and the human race was predicated on her good health. 

Peterson nails it, particularly in her description of the two millennial sons, part of a generation which has seemingly revealed themselves to be both simultaneously enraged at authority (antifa) and extremely obedient (edicts from Dr. Fauci) to whomever is the expert. Parents who have helicoptered them, perhaps, have trained them that there is always someone hovering who is the one who knows, and when that expert speaks, you obey. They are at the whims of whatever they are being told, whether to be angry at police or ferocious about making sure everyone is wearing a mask and following pandemic protocols.

As Peterson notes, there is a disturbingly selfish motive hidden in all of it. How dare you impact my life? How dare you possible expose me to a virus? How dare you cause me to cancel my plans? Your very presence and existence as a human has now become a problem. 

At first all this made the woman pray fervently for quicker test results, so that everyone would be happy again, and friendly again, and could un-cancel their cancellations, and so that the woman’s brother and sister-in-law could have their Colorado visit. 

She still prays that but with a little less certainty that getting “back to normal” is the most desirable outcome. If normal was so great, then why did God just shake it up? Could it be He has a better work in mind?

I've seen this. 

Families outraged at other members who had shown them hospitality only to later find out they'd been exposed prior to that. How dare anyone invite anyone over, give them food, take them out, or visit?! How dare you be so foolish to live your life graciously and with joy and happiness instead of fear and anxiety?

Or the adult children, aggressively restricting what their parents do with every power they have, trying to guilt, shame, cajole, lecture, or simply restrict access to grandchildren for "their own good," making the grandparents feel guilty for being so selfish that they would like to not go a year without seeing any family in person.

I've seen the whispering gossip that arises from a possible or known positive test result, with everyone making judgements on whether the person should have gone there or if the camp should have been held or if the church should have met or the wedding or funeral have been held. 

It is wrong to be this way. You aren't being more caring. You're being cruel. Yours isn't the behavior of human beings, much less smart human beings. It's the behavior of chess pawns made of jello, angry at the other chess pieces instead of angry that they're being played.

If my mom and dad, who are of the susceptible demographic but are capable adults able to make their own decisions, want to do something pandemic protocol says they should not, it is their choice. I want them to live their life as full as they would like. Whatever the outcome today, I know this: we will all die. You can't cheat death hiding behind a mask.

We confuse love for loved ones much in the same way we've been told life is about how long you're on the earth instead of how you live while you're here. We are more than just meat, but infectious disease doctors and leaders have convinced us the goal is to extend the sell by date instead of living well whatever that date might be. I love my family, I know they love me, and there is freedom in that because I don't have to calculate potential lost future time with them in order to make up for lost time now.

That "sell by" date, by the way, is not up to you. You do not know. You can make every best effort, but it's not in your control to extend your life beyond your time. Keith Richards, after a life of unhealthy and wild living, is still alive, and young athletes drop dead on the playing field. We don't know our time.

You can honor your father and mother by showing them love when you can. Not just lip service or showing up for holidays or a financial bequest, but instead in showing respect, obedience, and in putting in the time to visit, run errands, and whatever else. As a Christian, I believe that if you love and honor your family now, pray for their salvation, and repair relationships to the best of your ability, you don't have to fret about the sell by date. You don't have to keep you and your family apart from others for "their own good."

The pandemic obedience normalized by leaders, media, and the mob is highly unfortunate. The lives lost alone, in despair, in depression, and feeling forgotten are no joke. And the people whose own family are treating them like a pariah or a walking virus, scolding them for wanting to show love and hospitality because it isn't "safe," ought to be ashamed.


  1. YES.

    Some of this is my husband's family, with the away/urban sons having convinced our neighboring grandparents that they can't have their grandkids over at all. We've seen my very-away family much more than my literal around-the-corner in-laws this summer.

    Such a train wreck.



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