Similar to the process of a personal surgical procedure, our nation has had a metaphorical political and cultural surgical experience for at least the past several months during the pandemic. So I want to suggest that we as a nation - and individually - are all in a post-op, rehabilitative mode after the “surgical” crises we just endured as we now begin the difficult process of healing.
A personal surgical journey begins with the realization we will need some major physical adjustment to a serious crisis in our health, either by the evidence in a test, the result of an accident, or the realization we can no longer ignore and deny a nagging physical problem. Once we have a diagnosis and a commitment to surgery, what follows are numerous tests, delays, follow-up visits, pre-op preparation and hours of anxiety. Finally, the much anticipated surgery, and following the hoped for news that the procedure was successful, we launch into the often painful but productive course of the restitution of our strength and health through the post-op process of recovery and rehabilitation.
The U.S. has now endured a similar diagnosis and surgical procedure. We have at least begun to name the extent of our national diseases and to make a commitment to address them. As a result we have fortunately avoided succumbing to a chronic, if not fatal, situation that threatened our democratic government and the soul of our people themselves. Our denials of our ill health were dramatically probed with often uncomfortable historical "x-rays" that exposed our structural faults and demanded reckoning with the cancers of racism, militarism, totalitarianism, and environmental instability, among others. And all this within the context of our Covid-19 compromised economic and cultural "immune system” with added pain from a fear-mongering presidency. As a result, all of us, to some extent, have been affected by the reality of our nation's illness and a societal anxiety that nearly did us in. Hence the surgery. And we did survive!
So here we are: post-op. We are likely greatly relieved but also bruised and sore from both the contested election and the infection of the following insurrection as we wondered how far our rehabilitation efforts could take us. Will we recover to a past level of “normal,” and is that even advisable or possible? Can we reach higher? Are we willing to try to live more sustainably and more responsible to each other as a nation? Our situation is like the heart patient who has just received a successful by-pass procedure and now is told he must commit to a healthier diet, a daily exercise regimen, and give up smoking if he is to continue to live a healthy life. What are the reasonable expectations of how much sacrifice and strenuous exertion he is willing to offer? And even if there are only limited assurances of full recovery, dare he not make a commitment to try his best to take advantage of his new lease on life?
As we now anticipate immunizations protecting us from the virus, and as our social and economic systems have promise of mending, we can also begin to make longer term plans, perhaps to travel to see family and friends or take a delayed vacation trip, and go back to a regimen of commuting to work and a busy schedule of professional and personal meetings and to resume recently restricted activities and responsibilities.
But before we go into full make-up mode I want to suggest we just need to pause and assess how we want to live following the lessons of the Covid lockdown and the traumatic election process. How can we maintain the lockdown practices that have been especially life affirming, like a slower pace perhaps? (While acknowledging, of course, the difficulties of no school for many parents and kids and the limited opportunity to see beloved members of our families, and the disastrous impact on small businesses, among other hardships.) How much travel can we justify given the impact of the environment? How can we be helpful in encouraging structural changes such as universal health care, anti-racism and prison reform? Will we continue to give generously to food banks, services for the homebound and homeless, and other charities that have suffered during this last ten months? How can we better understand the heart and power of nonviolence and develop a more intentional daily practice of kindness and reconciliation?
The point is that we must not simply resort to business as usual with over-work and endless consumption. During Covid we gained a new appreciation, I think, about compassion, and I hope this continues with our heightened concern for the poor, the prisoner, and the marginalized. To continue the surgical analogy, will be we able to change our lifestyles and practices post-op to at least minimize possible relapses and remissions into the level of stress and injustices that caused the illness in the first place.?
The uplifting inauguration of President Biden and Vice-president Harris last Wednesday was a celebration of our capacity to at least initially succeed in overcoming a “health” crisis of our “body politic" with the successful "surgery” of a tense but successful national election. The event featured a call for unity, yes, but is was also an expression of a longed for sense of community, of inclusion, of a youthful movement full of promise and art and guided by elders of good will. We tend to greatly admire individuals who have faced personal physical and emotional tragedy and have overcome it with perseverance and a positive resilience . Let us be in that healing mode now, both as a government and each of us personally.
So, friends, in the spirit of Amanda Gorman’s poem, let us be a healing light in time of shade as we continue to address the serious ongoing crises in our country and in our world.