And just like that, the hurtling, boiling, noisy world stops. We look at one another and shrug. The unstoppable engine of commerce was suddenly switched off. Maybe a pangolin tripped on the cord and pulled it out of the wall.
It leaves us all wondering what we do now. We will, of course, have to restart the economy. But, when we do, we have the chance to ask ourselves … who do we start it for?
Will we start it back up for the same voices on Wall Street? Barking loudly and then running in a panic like small dogs behind a fence? Will we start it for the big companies that squeeze the very humanity out of us in the vice of unfettered capitalism, with only the almighty dollar as our god and each of us a temple slave at the alter of profit?
We have a moment to remind ourselves that commerce serves human life, and life was never meant to serve commerce. That is the ultimate failure of idolatry … the imprisonment of the mind that comes from putting a thing out of its place in reality, and then stooping lower and lower as your world pulls out of alignment.
Before I go further, it is obvious to all this is a tragedy of immense proportions. Yes, we may lose thousands a year to the flu or car accidents or even conflict, but that is no excuse to look away from the danger and sadness of this new loss of life, particularly to our elderly.
It also goes nearly without saying (“nearly”, as I am saying it all the same) that many people will suffer the loss of jobs, livelihoods, dreams, businesses, educations … this list goes on. These are not trivial losses, each one being a real loss to a real person just like you or I.
These losses are not the whole story, though.
In the midst of this tragedy, people the world over are learning there is wonder in slowing down. They are taking, almost as a guilty pleasure, the time to rest and be at peace. People are flocking out to the natural world, one that is suddenly beautiful and putting on a show without as much pollution in the skies and water.
We have a chance, a fleeting moment, to remember that our salvation, our freedom, does not come in going back to our little holes, putting a roof back over our head and blinders on our eyes and feverishly sprinting away to our next paycheck. We can live with less, live together, live slower … and in doing so, live free.
Yes, many people will need new jobs, and many people will suffer as the economy finds a new normal in the aftermath of all this. And more importantly, people will mourn. We will lose loved ones, precious people, our beloved elderly and some not so thoroughly aged. We will lose friends and lovers. They will need to be mourned. They deserve that.
They also deserve to be remembered by a humanity that chose to move forward better. They deserve to be remembered by people who learned out of this to be humans again, not simply slaves to the great machines of commerce we have created.
Humans, of course, are not good at learning a lot from our tragedies. History teaches us this. Thankfully, we are also not good at learning to stop hoping. We do it ceaselessly, foolishly, indomitably. We never stop hoping.
My hope for this moment is that more of us will realize the joy of stopping lies in not being transfixed by horrible news, but by turning it off. Your quarantine will not end a day sooner because you sat glued to your TV. When we get through to the other side of this, our having been frightened to death then entire time will do us no good.
Neither will it do us good to measure our success in recovery merely on the level of the DOW. We will need business, as we always have. There is more to life than this, though, and we have just been given a chance to remember that truth and weave it back into our lives again.
The talking heads on TV are consumed with “destroying our country” if the economy falters. It is as though these same people have forgotten that the things which make our country great — freedom, equality, self-determination — have nothing to do with our economy. Our economic progress is a side effect of our principles, not the source of them.
Globally, we have been asked to step off the treadmill. We have a chance to ask ourselves how and when to step back on. We can either blindly jump back in, desperately trying to “rebuild” our businesses, towns and economies exactly as they were before this disaster … or we can remember the toxic life of that world, the brutal pace, and the unrelenting fear of so much somehow still not feeling like enough.
We can rebuild differently. Some are saying we will step back in to life slowly as sectors of the economy are put back online one piece at a time. As we do that, it is my fervent hope that we have the courage and the vision to continually remind one another that we are the only ones in charge of our destiny. We can build a new and better world … one that has the space and time built in to let us be humans.
The same people who have slowly trapped the world on a treadmill of need that made it feel like we were running to fast to step off are already set to put us back on that pace. Ask yourself, “for what?” “For whom should I run that fast?”
Breathe. Take a walk. Make dinner with your loved ones. Remember life can have more of this in it. We can choose a life that is only slightly slower yet vastly more human. We must choose it together, but it is a choice available to us if we dare to see it.