The Hokey-Pokey Pop Quiz, or, There Is No Them
Oscar Hammerstein II is one of my heroes. His characters Will Parker and Ado Annie sing a song in Oklahoma! with a lyric that goes “With me it’s all er nuthin’.” Then he straight-up asks Ado Annie, “Is it all er nuthin’ with you?”
The Trump Pandemic seems to me to be asking the same question of each of us. It’s a Hokey-Pokey Pop Quiz. Are you putting your whole self in? I am.
Do these names mean anything to you?
Stacy Gentling and Caitlynne Miller
Mr. Dove is the owner of three pizza places near Johnson City, Tennessee.
Mr. Rivera is the pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy in Phoenix, Arizona.
Mxs. Gentling and Miller are the owners of the Oklahoma City Moms Blog.
Each of these people, on their own, and for the sake of themselves, their families, and their communities aced the Hokey-Pokey Pop Quiz. They put their whole selves in. They answered Will’s question to Annie. Here’s what they said: “All.”
They closed their restaurants, they closed their church, they flew in the face of the governor dining out with his family and warned moms to stay home and keep their kids with them. Prompted, unprompted, they looked within themselves, and did the right thing.
In that same article, it says “Robert Putnam, the author of ‘Bowling Alone,’ which famously explored civic disengagement and the decline of social and political connections, and a professor of public policy at Harvard University, said it was not unusual for ‘innovation and decisiveness to be found more at the local level.’”
There is little need to list the names of those persons who’ve failed the quiz, answered with a resounding “Nuthin’” heard ’round the world, and done the wrong thing. Aside from the fact that it would take days to list them, you already know who they are. So do I.
A headline in this morning’s Times gave me chills, “Doctors are Writing Their Wills.”
Something totally insignificant brought clarity to our situation in stunningly high relief yesterday. Does your family joke that if food falls on the floor, you can still eat it if it’s only escaped your plate for less than thirty seconds? When it happens, and it does, we usually laugh, grab whatever it is, pop it in our mouths, and carry on.
Last night, I accidentally hit a small plastic bowl of pretzels with my elbow, and they went skittering to the floor. I was embarrassed and laughed. I’m rarely that clumsy. As I started to reach down, my husband spoke sharply, “Don’t!” He never uses a tone like that with me. I stopped instantly, and met his eyes. “Not now.”
He got up, collected them, and tossed them. I refilled the bowl, shaken at what had just happened.
Our housemate works in a nursing home. She wears shoes, how civilized. Even though she disinfects them when she gets home every night, there is still a risk. The thirty-second rule no longer applies.
Death makes life very clear.
I’ve known this for many years. I’m a minister, and holding such an office means that I am called in to recognize life changes for persons via ceremony. Birth, marriage, divorce, miscarriage, death. Death, indeed, makes life clear. Usually, crystal clear.
Sometimes the best part of the newspaper is the Letters to the Editor. One of this morning’s cracked me up and made me mad at the exact same moment. Here it is in its entirety because I can’t resist.
To the Editor:
Dear President Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: As a very old woman living in Texas, I’m sorry, but I’m just not ready to die so you can take credit for saving the stock market.
I have written before that pitting the health of the population against the health of the economy is ludicrous. Nicholas Kristof and Stuart Thompson agree with me: “It is a false choice to say that we must accept the deaths of senior citizens to keep small businesses going.”
That false oppositionalism, so lusciously and succinctly named and called out by Mx. Austrey, is simply a distraction from what’s really going on. Let’s name it, shall we?
We are being asked, over and over again, to confront any idea at all ever that there is a difference between an us, and a them. In truth, that there even is an us and a them.
Beloved, truly, there has never been, there is not now, and there will never be a them. It’s always been, is now, and always will be only and ever us.
Mara Gay quoted Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressing the nation on the eve of the London Blitz, “It would be foolish to disguise the gravity of the hour,” he said. “It would be still more foolish to lose heart and courage.”
The gravity of the hour is patently clear, and is made only clearer by the graphics available from every media source in the world. Does “flatten the curve” mean something to you? Of course it does. So does, “If you see something, say something.”
Losing heart and losing courage aren’t graphable, but they can be felt from the inside out, from the tops of our heads to the ends of our toes. Ms. Gentling, the Oklahoma City mom, said “her drive to make the blog the best possible resource for parents trying to navigate the virus, physically and emotionally, had given her a sense of purpose.”
Therein lies one possible key to not only surviving this pandemic, but, dare I say it, potentially thriving through it. A sense of purpose.
We don’t know what the purpose of the virus is yet, not on a collective level. We can’t. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We can’t predict it, but we do know that often early information about communicable diseases isn’t correct information. HIV/AIDS is a chilling example.
On the other hand, a sense of purpose is personal, interior, and can be entirely self-determined.
Dr. Vicki Jackson, the chief of palliative care and geriatrics at Mass General Hospital in Boston seems to have been working toward this moment her whole career. The Times writes, “Her medical practice and scholarly work are focused on helping patients and their families answer questions like: What does quality of life mean for me? What would I be willing to go through to get more time? Right now, she says, that conversation comes easily. ‘It is like the pandemic has allowed patients to be more courageous, more clear.’”
Courageous, just like the words of Winston Churchill. Courage is a quality of the heart. Heart qualities never, ever recognize an us and a them. Hearts don’t have the velcro that allows us to make those sorts of false distinctions.
Got a will, Beloved? One way to give your life a sense of purpose, and to keep up your courage, is to write a will. You’d be surprised how much writing a will gives you an appreciation of life and what it means to you. It’s also an “All Er Nuthin’” task. It requires that you take stock of you, your life, your loved ones, and what’s important to you.
Consider beginning one, and in the meantime, do the Hokey-Pokey please. Put your Whole Self in to what it’s going to take to care for this virus so we put it into its place in history. Start by answering Will Parker’s trenchant question. “All.”