The Selfish Revelers
My mom told me this morning about an account given by a neighbor of hers, an ICU nurse who works in a Baton Rouge hospital with her husband, a physician. They have been working incredibly hard caring for Covid patients. The other day, they had some time off, and decided to drive far into the country to sit quietly at a place known for being peaceful. When they arrived, they saw about 100 cars parked there, and the quiet spot overrun by picnickers, as if it were the Fourth of July. This couple, who have been watching people fight for their lives, just drove away, shocked and despairing. The nurse said we will never beat this disease if people keep behaving like that — that is, if they act like the stay-at-home orders are no more meaningful than anti-jaywalking laws.
My mom, who has been housebound for weeks now, said that all of us are going to have to stay cooped up even longer because of these selfish idiots. I told her about a friend in suburban Dallas who said the same thing to me yesterday, regarding all the people around him who are acting like this is a long holiday, an opportunity to have fun with their neighbors. My son just got back from a walk around the neighborhood, and said there are a lot of people at the local park, all hanging out close to each other, as if the coronavirus were a myth.
These are not people who have no choice but to go to work because their businesses are considered essential. You think the nurse and her doctor husband, who have children, want to be in the hospital every day? These partygoers are not even people who are breaking lockdown to go to church. These are people who are having fun. Many of them are spreading the virus unawares. They are hurting all of us. The government is gutting the economy because it’s the only way to lessen the mass death from coronavirus — and these self-centered morons are determined to make the pain worse because they don’t want to be troubled to stay at home for the common good.
A lot of people seem to believe that it’s not fair that the authorities are telling us to stay at home. They want to respond to the virus in a way that suits them. As if the virus cares about accommodating your idea of what’s fair and what’s not fair!
This is not a red state/blue state thing, a conservative/liberal thing, a religious/secular thing. This is all of us. What is it with people, refusing to make even a small sacrifice (staying at home) for the common good? Doctors, nurses, hospital personnel, National Guardsmen, grocery store workers, firefighters, police officers — they’re out there on the front lines for all of us. The very least we can do is show solidarity with them by staying at home. That’s not a big ask. But far too many of us have become the kind of people who can’t be bothered to sacrifice anything.
If this is how we behave at the beginning of this crisis, what are we going to do when we are much poorer? It’s coming, you know. There are no good ways out of this crisis — this public health crisis, and the economic crisis it is causing. There are only less bad ways through it. What these selfish people are doing is prolonging the emergency, increasing the pain, and laying the groundwork for something like martial law. And for what? Because they’re bored at home? Because nobody’s gonna tell them what to do? So much for solidarity.
I’m really mad about this.
UPDATE: I’m thinking about having watched the Divine Liturgy livestreamed from our parish this morning. Our priest’s sermon talked about how important fasting and ascetic sacrifices are to our salvation. He said that he’s heard that some parishes are giving permission to the faithful to give up the Lenten fast during this pandemic crisis. This, said our priest, is the wrong approach. We don’t fast because we’re trying to prove something; we fast because it is spiritually good for us. It teaches us that man does not live by bread alone. God has asked us all this Lent to accept extraordinary sacrifices. This we must do, and understand that it is for our own salvation.
I heard this as I watched the service, with my family, on my wife’s laptop. I can’t get over how much these livestreamed services mean to me — even more, to be honest, than if I were standing there in the church. Why? Because this unasked-for ascetic labor of missing the liturgy has sharpened my desire for the liturgy, and for the Eucharist. What’s the saying? “You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.” Not being able to go to church has made me realize how much it means to me. I am sure I will weep when I can finally cross the threshold into the church again, with all my fellow parishioners.
I was thinking too, after the liturgy, of the things I learned this past year from the examples of the great saints — not yet canonized! — of the communist yoke. Dr. Silvester Krcmery, the Catholic physician and lay leader from Slovakia, wrote in his memoir This Saved Us about how, upon entering prison, he set his mind to accepting every deprivation and every torture the communists would lay upon him as an opportunity for deeper conversion. After his first prison beating, Dr. Krcmery thought this:
Even though this was my first experience with this level of violent physical assault, I actually did not feel anything. Perhaps I was in such a state of shock that I was not fully conscious of the pain.
I considered the whole thing a very valuable ordeal. For hours I repeated, “Lord you didn’t disappoint us. You always promised that you would be with us, that you would never abandon us. What could I now possibly bring you as a sacrifice? nothing hurt me. I really have nothing to offer you as a sacrifice.”
Despite everything, in a sense I cherished those wounds. This was after all the only tangible, although insignificant evidence I had that I had offered Christ something.
After this interrogation I found that I had two broken ribs. I was not allowed to see a doctor but in the course of three or four weeks they healed, apparently without consequences.
He chose to accept everything for the sake of his own spiritual purification: “I’m going through all this so I can help others and the Church.” Later, in 1954, when he was on trial, Dr. Krcmery told the communist judges:
We will not allow ourselves to be led to hate, to rebel or even to complain. There are already hundreds of people who can testify to that. That is where our strength and superiority lie. We know how to return good for evil and we know that all our brothers will work harder and more selflessly than others (just as Christ taught us). After all, we are following an old tradition. The first Christians who were persecuted under the Roman empire, though imprisoned by the hundreds, tortured and crucified, were the most self-sacrificing workers, even after they were imprisoned and sent to hard labour in mines. There is no record that we know of which states that they organized any rebellion.
In this great book, Father George Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox priest, spoke in agonizing detail about the suffering of Christians (and all others) in communist prisons. He did two stints in prison there, and like so many others, was tortured. In an interview towards the end of his life, Father George’s interlocutor mentioned to him that everyone she has ever interviewed testifies, as the priest was doing, to the uncanny “spiritual joy” experienced in captivity. Father George explained:
It is impossible for people outside of prison to understand. We were freed and we were very happy to be free, but we had a kind of nostalgia about the prison. And we could not explain it to others. They said we were crazy. how could you miss prison? Because in prison we had the most spiritual life. We reached levels that we are not able to reach in this world. Isolated, anchored in Jesus Christ, we had joys and illuminations that this world cannot offer us. There are no words to express exactly the feeling we had there.
Elsewhere in the interview, Father George says his prison experience removed the veils from reality:
I was very fortunate in that God opened my spiritual eyes to understand the importance of material things and the importance of spiritual things. What is most important for me is that I understood this fight between good and evil, between God and the enemy of God — the devil. Nothing in this world just happens in a mirror. All of these visible phenomena are only a reflection of what happens on the spiritual level, you know.
It’s true. All these people out and about carousing because they can’t bear to make even the smallest sacrifice for the good of all, their deeds reflect what is happening on a spiritual level.
Christian friends, I am not a proselytizer, but if your church or tradition is not teaching you how to orient yourself towards bearing suffering as Father George and Dr. Krcmery were — or as Father George’s prison comrade, the Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand was — then it is all but useless, and will chewed up by the dragon that has us in its jaws. I’m not kidding.