The year I turned thirteen our church’s summer girl’s camp took place in the high desert of Arizona. I contracted strep throat (a regular occurrence for me) the night before we were slated to go. My father was going with the group in a leadership capacity and I didn’t want to miss the chance to spend time with my dad. The theme that year was “Face the Challenge.” So I sucked it up, despite a flaming throat, and went to camp. We bathed in a muddy river, set up our own army tents. Our tent fell on me. One minute I was trying to dig out a trench next to the tent in case of rain, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground, surrounded by total blackness. I got pulled out from under there fairly quickly, but the cross beam had landed squarely across my hips. I had a massive bruise and wouldn’t learn until years later that the bone had chipped. The next night the kind of desert monsoon that you have to live through to understand blew in. The muddy river started rising, our tents fell once more, and a deadly cluster of lightning strikes scattered around the area. We scrambled for cars to wait out the storm. It was crazy. But everyone who attended agreed that it was an incredible experience that taught us about the falseness of sense of limitation. We could do so much more than we thought.
Four years later I contracted mono. I was taking pre-calculus and there were no make ups for the mid term. I sat in the hallway so I could hawk up all the phlegm that was clogging my throat without disturbing my fellow students. I had a temperature of 103.5. My mother would take me to the emergency room later that night. I got a B+ on that test.
Yeah, I’m kind of a rockstar. But this is not a brag fest. (If it was it would include the story of how I puked in a QT cup while doing 50mph behind the wheel of a massive Ford because I was morning sick and had to get the kids to school anyway.)
This is me putting the current moment into perspective.
It’s been a while since the Western world suffered an honest to goodness plague. The Spanish Flu had just about dropped out of living memory when COVID-19 took the planet by storm. But something has been bothering me–immensely–since March of 2020. The word unprecedented has been bandied around, I think in a shockingly successful attempt at fear mongering, in relationship to what we are experiencing. But is it?
The black plague that shot through London in the 1660’s ravaged its way across Europe first, essentially the entirety of what the West considered the civilized world. And there’s evidence that it did much damage in India as well, though less well documented. Diseases pop up suddenly, with unpredictable effects: some targeting the young, some the old, some snatching away the seemingly healthy, others laying waste to anyone with so much as a previous case of the sniffles.
Let me be clear. I am not discounting the pain of those who’ve lost loved ones over the last two years. That grief is real. The sudden and unexpected nature of COVID’s appearance and behavior was shocking. But it’s not a total unknown. Disease is the reality of living on a planet that supports life. We are all running the risk of catastrophic contagion every day just by respirating.
The answer, in my lifetime, has never been lock it down, forced experimentation on the populace, and funnel resources into the hands of massive corporations. Until 2020 that is.
Since my teenage years, where the cultural messaging was, “Suck it up. Get over it. Move on,” a shift has taken place. At first, that shift was needful. Yes, we ought to tough it out, but we shouldn’t have to do that alone. Yes, we move forward with our lives, but it’s ok to need assistance, therapy, time off, a time out, or good hug and a long cry. It’s okay to scrutinize expectations and wonder, “Why are we doing this?” rather than crumple under the weight of ideals that don’t serve you or society. That’s all fine.
What’s not fine is insisting that one’s own struggles, one’s feelings, and one’s weaknesses should set the policies and procedures that govern us all. Rather than stopping at a healthy interdependence between family members, society, and state resources, the pendulum kept swinging to a weakening of our personal integrity and an unhealthy co-dependence on government assistance and emotional support animals.
The phrase “Fall down seven times, rise up eight,” is attributed to the Japanese (nana korobi ya oki) as a cultural idiom for responding to failure. And it may well be, but I spent a twenty minute Google rabbit hole trying to figure out if it predates the arrival of the Bible in Japan and couldn’t find an origin (just a bunch of linkedin pages with the expression as their heading). The reason being the book of Proverbs 24:17 says, “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again; but a wicked man will fall into mischief.”
Regardless of where this wisdom finds it birth (similar wisdom traditions crop up across cultures all the time), it seems that our ancestors are calling from the deep past for us to get up.
The past few years may have shown us weaknesses we weren’t quite ready to confront or they may have proved to us that we can endure more than we thought. But whatever this moment in time has inflicted on you, it’s time to get back up. It’s time to get at it, whatever it is. It’s time to be responsible for yourself. It’s time to look around you and see who still needs help, and not let nonsense rules keep you from giving aid where it’s needed.
Because here’s the kicker, there’s a tipping point. A place where if not enough of us are getting up from the rough impacts the world throws our way, then everything comes apart. And no system, no government, no corporation can fix that. There is no “in this all together” if more than half of us are lying where we fell.
Chances are you have friends, neighbors, family members who took one look at 2020 and went straight to the open arms of waiting vices (not the least of which are ideologies that comfort even as they blind). I’m not saying my responses to the COVID year that has become two (when it was supposed to be two weeks to flatten the curve). But I did turn to my creative work to assuage my anxiety. I did start working out like my life depended on it, and turns out it kinda did.
The number seven in our inspirational phrase is not a literal injunction. You only have to get up eight times, there won’t be a ninth. No. We know better.
Just because Denmark and Britain have dropped all of their COVID regs and are going back to “normal” doesn’t mean that this disease and the people who are profiting from it are done with us. And it doesn’t mean that the consequences won’t have impacts on all of us for years to come. And we cannot know, what we don’t yet know about those consequences. I would advise everyone to buckle up, in one way or another. Be prepared to get up and get up and get up.
I’ll leave you with a last little narrative that nearly had me ugly crying in the gym the other day. I was sitting at the row machine, feeling sorry for myself. My weight-to-be-lifted was laughable, I was tired, sore, wishing that working out was fun for me (I love the post workout mood boost I still hate the process) and that I looked like the Insta-model twenty-something over on the hip abductor. And then I saw him. Through the windows, out into the parking lot I saw a man cruising up to his truck on a skateboard. He was on his knees.
This man had no feet, one leg missing at the knee the other just below it. He pulled his very cool long board out from under him, put it in his truck, lifted himself up onto the driver’s seat and started it up. He had come to the gym knowing that people would look, would only see his limits. He didn’t care. He had weight to lift and cardio to do. He had been knocked down. Way down. And there he was, out that window, rising.
I put a stop to my pity party. I got back to lifting the weight that was advisable for me as I recover from my surgery in November. And I was grateful that I could do it. That I could come back to the gym again and again to creep towards where I want to be.
To you, my Readers, Writers, and Friends: There is someone who has been knocked down harder than you would believe, and have still risen back to their feet. There are people who have been bowled over by far less than you would think, and who have laid in their misfortune, using it as an excuse to make worse and worse decisions. Too many of one and nations fall apart. Just enough of the other and societies flourish.
We need everyone to get up.
Read well and Write on,