on the Coronavirus Crisis
Upon reading a Facebook Posting my niece, describing how she and her husband and adorable daughter were working at coping with our current crisis, I somehow thought about Thomas Paine’s first “American Crisis” essay, written December 23, 1776. This was the essay that George Washington found so inspiring he made his troops read it during their winter at Valley Forge (about a year later) and, in much the same fashion, I thought it might be inspiring for us to read it (with some timely edits in the text) as we begin our siege with COVID-19. Thomas Paine, by the way, was a resident of New Rochelle, New York State’s first epicenter of Covid-19, which only adds to the significance of this essay. So, without further ado --- Thomas Paine (with some editing --- noted by bold type --- from your humble Blog-poster).
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. COVID-19, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
Whether the precautions against the virus were declared too soon, or delayed too long, I will not now enter into as an argument; my own simple opinion is, that had it been eight months earlier, it would have been much better. We did not make a proper use of last winter, neither could we, while we were in an ignorant state. However, the fault, if it were one, was all our own; we have none to blame but ourselves. But no great deal is lost yet. All that COVID-19 has been doing for this month past, is rather a ravage than a conquest, which the spirit of the Jerseys, a year ago, would have quickly repulsed, and which time and a little resolution will soon recover.
I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to viral destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of disease, by every decent method which wisdom could invent. Neither have I so much of the infidel in me, as to suppose that He has relinquished the government of the world, and given us up to the care of devils; and as I do not, I cannot see on what grounds Covid-19 can look up to heaven for help against us: a common murderer, a highwayman, or a house-breaker, has as good a pretense as it
'Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world.
There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one. There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the virus, if it succeeds, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from that which has refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of disease; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both.
I thank God, that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well and can see the way out of it.
There is much more to Paine’s text, including his account of Washington crossing the Delaware, but these excerpts seemed particularly relevant to our current situation and, in it, some good advice, even (almost) 250 years later. I am hoping that all of us, my niece and her family, my brother and his, my Mom in an Assisted Living facility, the Lovely Carol Marie and her family (which added a giant baby boy just before all of this craziness struck), and all who read this and their loved ones, might find some strength from Thomas Paine’s words, crafted two and half centuries ago but intended for a nation under siege, with a hope for the future. Be well. Wash your hands. Stay inside. Keep a journal. Make music, Paint or draw. Catch up on all that steaming content. We will look back soon, remembering how we made it through the COVID-19 crisis of 2020. Love to all.