The Better Angels of Our Nature

I had a friend in high school named Jane who said her mother felt that life was a birthday party and she, Jane’s mother, was the guest of honor.  Jane’s rueful smile as she described her mother’s naivete still amuses me.  At seventeen, Jane already understood that some people would never allow themselves the luxury of cynicism.

I want to be like that.  Someone I used to know repeatedly suggested that I should assume only good of others.   I nearly embraced that philosophy but saved myself short of complete surrender.  Still, the notion tempts me.  Time after time, though, I reach for the pan on the stove; and time after time I snatch burnt fingers to my mouth.

With the present world-wide catastrophe, we all watch for the true character of others to emerge.  From our elected leaders to the neighbor three doors down, anyone whom we encounter has an instant and immutable opportunity for nobility.  Weakness exposes itself.  Charity rises like uncurdled cream and froths in the pitcher.

I came home from work with a fever on Tuesday, a day or so before the official state-wide lockdown in California.  I immediately self-isolated.  I cancelled social plans.  I sent for remote work assignments and a doctor’s opinion.  If I had the novel corona virus, CoVID-19, I would not give it to anyone else.  I had already become obsessive about hand-washing.  Now I secluded myself in my 198-square-foot tiny house on wheels.  I spoke with friends by text or through a closed door.

In the microcosm of my world, nearly everyone within my immediate radius proved to be of indefatigable good character.  Groceries, packages, bottled water, offers of assistance, and cheerful encouragement surrounded me, delivered from the socially acceptable distance of at least six feet.  I did not assume; but now it seems that I could have.

My period of sequestration has given me an opportunity to devour demonstrations of solidarity manifested around the world.  Italians sing to one another from their balconies.  Young entrepreneurs make face masks from 3-D technology for nearby hospitals.  Hollywood stars read to children online.  Countless examples of the kindness of strangers blossom in every nation.

I do not pretend to know what outcome awaits the world.  We might disappear into the ages, or we might slog our way through this crisis.  No one can say.  No model can take into consideration the collective resilience of humanity.  For if we have any chance of survival, that chance lies only in cooperation; in rising to this intimidating occasion; in forsaking the desire for personal aggrandizement and instead pursuing only action intended to serve the greater good.  The moment for personal profit has faded in the murky, careless distance of our troubled past.  The way forward requires that we follow the brightest imaginable light, the glow of candles raised by eight billion hopeful hands, illuminating the path to salvation of the planet we so dearly love.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 04 March 1881


There Will Come Soft Rains
Sara Teasdale – 1884-1933

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Birds at Daybreak, Andrus Island. c. C. Corley 2020