The Day the Music Died

03-13-2021Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

“Do you recall what was revealed the day the music died?” American Pie sung by Don McLean

It’s now one year since the curtain came down on the country and most of the world started the “15 Days to Flatten the Curve”. Longest 15 days ever. Since it was one hundred years since the last Pandemic, none of us had any experience with Pandemics or how to respond. So, we all found ourselves as characters in a 21st century version of Camus’s “The Plague”. One of the characters in the novel, when confronted with the question about why God could allow such suffering, simply responds: “It helps men to rise above themselves”.

Looking back over the past year then, did it help us rise above ourselves? The answer seems to be a resounding yes and disheartening no.

Our political class certainly did not rise above themselves but found every way they could to use the issue to further their political agendas and tarnish their political enemies. Rather than coming together and uniting for a common purpose they reflexively took positions contrary to their political opponents. The virus came from China. You’re a xenophobe if you say that. Hydroxychloroquine has been shown to be safe for the last 65 years. The side effects of hydroxychloroquine will kill people. Don’t wear a mask, wear a mask, wear two masks. Asymptomatic spread is not happening, asymptomatic spreaders are spreading the virus. And on it went. In the end it became red state vs blue state and the Pandemic became another victim of partisan politics. That’s because as Camus pointed out, “stupidity has a knack of getting its way.”

But perhaps the ones who really sunk and failed to rise above themselves is our Public Health officials. We can all be excused if we have whiplash from their conflicting messaging. Good and helpful Public Health messaging focuses on harm reduction, risk management and it being done in a non-judgmental way so as to get as many people to take the needed precautions without causing push-back. Harm reduction and risk management is just that: reduction of disease not elimination of disease and based on your risk, manage accordingly. So, for instance get your flu shot and reduce your chances of getting the flu or cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. The messaging for the Pandemic quickly morphed from slow the spread to help our healthcare systems not get overloaded to stay locked down and eliminate all risk. And then there was “wear a mask and protect yourself” to “if you don't wear a mask you have blood on your hands”. That of course deputized a lot of people to become the mask police.

The politicization of Public Health and Medical science more generally has really been the biggest revelation since the day the music died. I am amazed how quickly science morphed into religion with its dogmas, heresies and inquisitions. The long-term result is a lack of trust in Public Health guidance and the sneaking suspicion that Public Health is being used to achieve non-health related ideological policies and partisan agendas. Camus understood what happens when a public health issue is hijacked for ideological purposes: “But again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death. The schoolteacher is well aware of this. And the question is not one of knowing what punishment or reward attends the making of this calculation. The question is one of knowing whether two and two do make four”. The fact is this pandemic is like every other pandemic in history: it does not respond better if we live in a democracy or a totalitarian state.

Still the good news is that communities all across the world did rise above themselves and found ways to help each other get through. Innovation, repurposing technology, neighborliness and most of all having a good sense of humor allowed communities to navigate the Pandemic with its uncertainties, inconveniences and tragedies. A lot of you have written some awe inspiring COVID-19 stories!

And when you think about it, maybe the only way we will hear the music again is for the everyday man and woman to not be numbed by the sound of silence but allow the music of brotherly love to issue forth from one person at a time.

In the end, as Camus wrote, “there are more things in men to admire than despise.”