Divided We Fall

Two years. I can’t believe it’s been two years. 

Two years ago today it was Friday the 13th. I left my office and took my laptop home with me just in case we wouldn’t be able to come back to the office for a week or so. Maybe I should take my favorite coffee cup too, I thought, just in case. And almost as an afterthought, I put the  little framed picture of my husband and son that always sat on my desk in my purse just in case. Then I turned out the lights and left.

Little did we know, right? 

It seems almost comical now how little we knew. At least it would be funny if it hadn’t been so damn scary. It’s still scary.

Little did we know that this extreme amount of stress would only be followed by more stress. The killings of George Floyd, Briana Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many more sparked outrage in the street. We wrestled and are still wrestling with America’s racist history. And yes, our history is full of racism.1

Wildfires, hurricanes, tornados and other natural disasters have destroyed homes, whole cities, and taken so many lives. And yes, climate change is real, y’all. 

We had a presidential election. Then a bunch of people tried to overthrow our government. 

We got a vaccine. And we got better. Then we got worse. Then we got better. Then we got worse. Now we’re getting better! But when will things get worse?

Britney is finally free and the Tiger King is still in jail. 

Oh, and now our collective hearts are breaking for Ukraine, and we’re on the verge of World War III.

It’s no wonder “a new survey by the American Psychological Association finds the stress of the pandemic is taking a toll on people’s physical and mental health.” These last two years have been exhausting on so many levels. And it’s not going to let up anytime soon, I’m afraid.

Last week I heard an interesting interview with author Sebastian Junger about an article he wrote for Vanity Fair entitled “Can Ukrainian Freedom Fighters Stand Up to the Russian Military? History Suggests They Can.” In it he says there are three common elements that help the Davids of this world slay the Goliaths. They are: 

  • The involvement of women (I’ll probably write more about this later because I’m fascinated by it)
  • Fearless leadership (notably he says, “Leaders who are not willing to accept the same risks and hardships as their followers in times of war will not remain leaders for long…”)
  • And what I think is probably the most important, the victorious all have “a clear moral purpose with deep roots in the history of the population

The Urkainians have that in spades – that “clear moral purpose with deep roots in the history of the population.”

That is what unites them to fight for their freedom. From the students who make molotov cocktails to the old women who challenge armed Russian soldiers in the street. They have a clear moral purpose. 

And I can’t help but think how we, as Americans, would act in the same circumstances. We can’t even agree on something as simple as wearing masks for the greater good of our society. Seems like that might be “a clear moral purpose.” But there are those who would rather send death threats to their school board officials than set an example of community solidarity for their children. 

“It is too bad that your mother is an ugly communist whore,” said the hand-scrawled note, which the family read just after Christmas. “If she doesn’t quit or resign before the end of the year, we will kill her, but first, we will kill you!”

(From a letter to the adult child of a school board member in Virginia, Reuters Investigates)

All that, rather than wear a mask, let a kid use a bathroom, or learn some true history. Fine example, right? What if someone said that to you or your mother? What if your mama said that to somebody? All so you didn’t have to endure the “trauma” of wearing a mask. 

Here’s a hint: parents who get all hepped up about things cause additional stress in their children; conversely, parents who talk with their children and help educate them have children who experience less stress.

And now think about the more than one million children who have had to flee their homeland with only what they, or their parents, can carry. Those kids are enduring some real, honest-to-Jesus trauma. 

Here’s the funny thing. We don’t have to fight, as some would have you believe, for our freedom. We have it! Name one thing you don’t have the freedom to do. 

We toss that word “freedom” around so casually. “Such and such is trying to take away our freedom…” we moan and groan. But what is really happening is that we are inconvenienced. We are selfish. And we are so morally self-righteous, that we don’t see the irony when we try to take away the freedoms of our neighbors to serve our own causes. 

But we are lucky enough not to know real oppression. Not like the oppression handed down by the Taliban or Kim Jong Il or Vladamir Putin. We’re lucky to be merely inconvenienced. 

And I can’t help but think about “the greatest generation.” They were bound together by that “clear moral purpose.” And together they fought our attackers, endured the rationing of everything from tires to sugar, and planted victory gardens. And those women that Junger referred to? Well, they went to work in factories and shipyards to fill the void left by the men who had gone off to fight. 

They came together with a clear moral purpose.

Could we – Americans who arguably live in the greatest nation on this earth – come together if our freedom was really, truly in danger? Could we put aside our differences for a greater good? Could we stop being so damn selfish for just a minute? 

Or would our enemies vanquish us while we raged against imaginary threats…and each other? Divided we fall.

1 If you aren’t taking a long, hard look at yourself and how you are both consciously and unconsciously racist, well..you should be. There’s no shame in acknowledging your flaws (and the flaws of our ancestors) and working to be a better human. In fact, it takes a lot of courage. But being willfully ignorant? Inexcusable. 

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