This past week has been full of surprises. At the end of last week, the Governor turned up in our county at a library a few miles away. The state okayed our covid safety plan to reopen local High Schools this week to voluntary in-person learning. Grades K to 8 had been doing voluntary in-person since Nov. Then a large storm system moved through. We don’t usually get much rain after Feb, and we didn’t get much this year anyway, so we’re still teetering on drought, again, but….we’ll take it. And finally our health dept announced it’s opening up a new group of vaccine eligible persons (ages 16-65 with health conditions) March 15. So, I’m hopeful I might get fully vaccinated by the end of May. All good stuff.
And of course I can’t overlook the fact the American Rescue Plan bill passed almost fully in tact (minus the $15 min wage). I actually broke Lent, just for an hour Weds night and celebrated with a small 1/4 glass of wine and some Hersey’s chocolate Easter eggs. Why? Because when God does something that great for so many, after so long, and despite so much resistance, you just have to take a moment and celebrate it – even during Lent. I’m hopeful HR1 (and all the voter rights legislation), as well as the NLBR, infrastructure, health care, climate change, ERA and other important legislation will pass as well. America is about 70 years behind on democratic progress compared to other Western nations, so it’s good to be catching up finally.
The biggest surprise this week however was what turned up in the garden. Gran’s garden is full of yellow bearded iris she planted 40+ years ago. Nothing ever comes up but yellow. Until this year. We looked out and there in the center of the garden circle, bold as brass in the morning sun was a purple iris. Gran’s dubbed it her Easter iris. It’s purple and gold (the traditional Christian Easter colors). I’m not sure what it is frankly, sport, mutant, miracle (maybe a 1920s “Indian Chief“-named after the motorcycle?). She says it’s a sign of Easter blessings. I’m onboard with that. My grandfather died around Easter, so Easter can be tough for Gran. If this makes her feel better? Sure. Thanks, God. But I was still curious about the bloom’s origins. About how it came to be. It seems to want to be a yellow iris, and you can see that in its buds. But for some reason, it just blooms out purple.
This strange iris’s stranger arrival in my Gran’s garden got me thinking about origin stories this week. Speaking to my Da, this idea hit home with me a bit stronger. We were talking about Amazon, unions, and MLK, Jr. MLK, Jr was a big union supporter. His last speech, the night before he was killed, was to sanitation workers forming a union. And at that point, my Da said he thought “MLK, jr was assassinated for being pro-union.” Uh….what? He mentioned Loyd Jowers. Uh …who? Thus it was, I found myself looking up the Loyd Jowers’ trial.
It was interesting reading. I mean, I don’t believe it’s true. But my Da is Welsh, and unions and violence against union organizers and members is part of his cultural origin story. So murder by Pinkerton by anti-union business owners is what makes sense to him. And the fact that the King family believed it? That too made sense. The Black experience in America, still today, is police violence against innocent people of color (they don’t even have to speak out against abuse or demand the same rights and justice as every other American to be killed). This is a cultural origin story.
Because it’s Lent, I started thinking about religious origin stories. In Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, we have a lot of stories about him, but really Abraham’s story begins with the birth of Isaac. We call him Abraham, father of Isaac, or Father Abraham. But he’d lived 130 or so years before becoming a father. In Moses, we have early stories about him as well, but only when he comes upon the burning bush does his origin story actually begin. And he’s well past his prime then. But it’s that Moses who finally faces his past and leads Israel into freedom and nationhood.
In Ruth, we have an origin story that begins with her as an adult woman. A childless, married woman, who becomes a widow and then faces a worldwide famine as a foreign woman, caring for her deeply depressed mother-in-law, in a Jewish man’s world. Ruth goes from pauper to the mother of all the kings of Israel. The mother of Jesus. And In Jesus, while we have a few early stories, really his story begins at age 30. That was considered an older man in those days. If you weren’t married with kids by 30, people thought you had real issues. And yet, at this “advanced” age, probably facing questions by society about his sexuality, at a wedding in Cana … his story begins.
I think the genius of Stan Lee is that he, at some level, understood that origin stories don’t begin with our birth. They begin when we’re in full flower, as adults, and suddenly, like the iris, we turn out different than expected. Maybe we were always different. But typically, life knocked us down, around or sideways and when we got up, our story began because we were different. Captain Marvel was already an adult with mad aviation skills and living a life in service of her country, when by a twist of friendship, fate and fatal crash, her origin story began. Dr Strange was in his 40s and a successful surgeon, when his origin story began, with a car crash. Bruce Banner was a middle-aged scientist with PhDs, when the gamma rays hit. (Kudos to Avengers: Endgame for allowing Bruce and his shadow Hulk to merge, a lesson to us all.)
Over and over we see it, not just in stories, but throughout history, when life as we know it suddenly collapses out from under us, when the apocalypse happens, there comes with it also revelation — about our world, our culture, our religions, our politics, our life, ourselves. Whole societies pick themselves up and start again. And if we choose, that’s the point, no matter how advanced our age or unfavorable our circumstances, that we can choose for our origin story can begin. From seeming chaos and collapse, we can seize an opportunity and end up not just okay, but Olympian.
Wherever we are in life, whatever has happened, we can draw a line under he past and start with: “In 2020, when the pandemic hit, I . . . .” The rest is your call. “I survived, and …. I was on the frontlines and…. I left my job to help my kids with school and …. Someone I loved died and ….. I had to leave school and ….” There’s always an “and.” That “and” is up to you. It’s your origin story. Imagine your “and” life about 5 or 10 years from now. Who will you be? Where will you be? What will you be doing? Who will be with you? What will your nation be like? What about your world? If now is the start of your origin story, where is it heading in the future? What’s your story arc? Can’t think that far ahead? Ok. What’s in your next panel?
I keep a list of people who saw their life take a turn, maybe saw it all burn down, but rose up from the ashes. Sometimes literally. It teaches me people are, I am, more resilient than I imagined. My favorite phoenix is the artist who had his studio and all his work burn down — when he was 70. It’s a big loss for any artist. He was older, he could have given up. But he rebuilt, and created more and better things. This was the story of Katsushika Hokusai. His quintessential work, known the world over, is of people in boats, swept up in a Tsunami. This was a person who understood, you can ride out the worst. It’s not about the size of the wave, it’s about the tenacity, courage, and unity of the people on the boats.
I’m not a Pollyanna. Just the opposite really. I know there will be an Easter/Passover/Spring break wave of death. Driven largely by anti-mask states and variants and stupidity. People are just not understanding that most people aren’t fully vaccinated, variants might resist the vaccine, and the J&J vaccine keeps you from death and hospitalization, but you can still get ill and in your illness, you can pass it on to other people. So right now, if you go out unmasked, don’t social distance, etc, there’s 90% chance you could catch covid and you could spread covid. It’s sad, but that’s reality. And it’ll be that way for months.
My guess is the US is on track for nearly 750K covid deaths before this all ends, really ends in 2022. That’s based on the vaccines actually working enough to stop the spread and chop the head off the variants. And people behaving themselves before and after getting those vaccines. When I tweeted last year that I expected, based on the govt’s non-response at the time, 500K deaths, people thought I was absolutely mad. Nope, just basic clear-eyed math and logic. But here we are. Bad govt, lots of death. Better govt, less death. But a govt is only as strong as it’s people. It always comes down to people.
People individually decide if they are (or are not) their brother’s keeper. The politically anti-mask, anti-vax folks? Not their brother’s keeper. Not their mother’s keeper. Not even their significant other’s keeper. It’s the highest order of selfish, anti-Christian, anti-democratic, anti-American behavior. When your neighbor’s field needs harvesting before the storm comes, you get out there with every member of your household and you pitch in. When there’s a fire, you join the bucket line. When a herd goes missing, you drop your own work and join the search party. That’s American.
When people tell me their hesitant about vaccination, I always bring up Steve Rogers. I remind them that what transformed him wasn’t his dauntless spirit and patriotic attitude. It was being brave enough to choose to endure an experimental treatment that would permanently alter him (maybe kill him) as well. Which he choose to endure, because he loved his country. He wanted to save others, and save his country. No risk was too great if it moved America toward that goal. So, for anyone wanting to start a transformation, your origin story could have no finer beginning than, “I chose to brave vaccination, for America. And then I….”
One of the things I’m most hopeful about, most looking forward to, is the next generation. The children of the last pandemic (1918-1919), became the Greatest Generation (they were born 1901-1927). Will this current pandemic generation (born 2002-2028) be our next Great Generation? Will they do great things because they grew up understanding they are fundamentally their brother’s keeper? Will they care about their whole world and everyone in it, the way the last GG did? Will they save the planet and make the world a better place?
From what I’ve seen so far? I think yes. I think they will. But of course, to do all that, they have to live. People have to live to be in the fight for justice, civil rights, climate justice, change, democracy, truth, equality…. And not just the kids, their generation of parents too. The only way they’ll live to make a difference is if we win the war on covid. And while we have masking, and distancing, and hand washing, which are all great public health tools. The scientists have given us the only real ammunition we have to end this, vaccines. So when your number comes up?
Grab that ammunition, solider. Get your vaccine. And we’ll all stay free.