Here’s the first thing you think when you get COVID-19: “I wish I could turn back time.”
If only I hadn’t gone … or stayed … or passed by … or did whatever it was that caused me to catch this. If only I could turn back time and change my path, change my decision, I surely would do it differently.
And the same thought keeps coming back as the dominoes keep falling: If only I had known not to be around that person and accidentally spread the virus. If only I had known I was contagious … or that someone else was contagious … or that we should have isolated … or that we shouldn’t have sent that person from our house to someone else’s house. If only we could turn back time.
But the reality is — anyone remember when the world used to be ordered around belief in reality? — we cannot turn back time.
And the second reality is — despite what you might hear from other public figures — that the novel coronavirus is extremely contagious. It is not a hoax. This is not a “plandemic.” And in case you haven’t noticed, it didn’t magically disappear the day after the election. It is with us and spreading exponentially.
Anyone who is downplaying the reality or the threat of this pandemic needs to be shut down and discredited. Do not listen to them, and do not allow them a platform. They are liars. And yes, truth matters. Give the deniers a foothold, and you, too, will be wishing you could turn back time.
Imagine what it’s like when you do something really stupid and know the instant you do it that it is stupid. Like when you hit your thumb with a hammer and realize in mid-swing what’s about to happen. Or when you grab a hot tray out of the oven without remembering that it is 400 degrees hot.
“Anyone who is downplaying the reality or the threat of this pandemic needs to be shut down and discredited.”
Now imagine the stupid decision you’re making is a matter of life and death. That’s what making the wrong decision about COVID is like.
Granted, many of us contract coronavirus without knowing where we got it or how. In my case, even if I could turn back time, I’m not sure where to set the dial and what decision to make differently. I can hazard a few guesses, but they’re only guesses. There’s no specific guilt in that, yet we all wonder what we might have done differently. Others, though, know exactly where they were when they got infected and desperately wish they would have made a different decision.
When I wrote about my diagnosis last week in my Friday email to our BNG subscribers, many were kind to send well wishes and prayers. Thank you. One reader wrote to scold me, though, for spreading fear when in his view I should just let God’s plan take its course and be submissive.
There’s a word for that kind of bad theology that I’m not allowed to use in this Christian publication. No, this is not God’s plan. And no, we shouldn’t just be carefree and let the virus go where it will.
You might as well say that sin is inevitable, and we ought to just let it happen around us as it will. The entirety of the Christian witness is wrapped up in bringing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven — not in allowing death and destruction to rule the day. Modern health care in America has deep roots in the Christian belief in preventing and healing illness as a spiritual calling.
We’ve been preaching “love your neighbor” for eight months now in an attempt to get people to help stop the spread of this virus. And that hasn’t worked so well.
Some arrogant pastors have argued that our need to worship God in person in a church building supersedes the call of Jesus to love neighbors by not spreading coronavirus. Others say they don’t believe this but take actions that send an entirely different message.
“Others of us have just given up because we lack the self-discipline to keep isolating or wearing masks or taking precautions.”
Meanwhile, many others of us have just given up because we lack the self-discipline to keep isolating or wearing masks or taking precautions. Or because we’re pretty sure it can’t happen to us.
That kind of magical thinking leads only to regret. Because reality, like gravity, gets the last word.
I’ve been heartened to hear from friends who have changed their Thanksgiving plans because they were spooked by our family’s current experience with COVID. I know these have been incredibly difficult decisions. One friend said if tears were a vaccine, his spouse’s tears over the decision to stay home and stay safe could protect the entire county. And yet they both knew it was absolutely the right decision.
Fortunately, our family’s experience with coronavirus has thus far produced four mild cases. Yet because of early decisions we made with the best information we had at the time, we allowed the spread from two people to three and then four — and now we have reason to believe we could have unwittingly spread the infection to two others beyond our house — who, in turn, could have spread it to others.
If only we could turn back time.
There’s a way to prevent having to turn back time, and that is to live in the reality of the present moment and stop the magical thinking. That requires a kind of self-discipline that is sorely lacking in our culture today, a kind of delayed gratification none of us like. And a dose of reality not coming from federal (and many state) governments.
As this pandemic spreads wildly across the nation, government will not save us. But we can save ourselves and others by acting responsibly and making hard decisions about the holidays. It’s not too late to stop the clock.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.