Fear and Loathing at the Beach and the ICU
A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with a group of friends about what we miss most these days. Somehow, the topic turned to the beach. As the air and water temperatures drop, my longing to feel sand between my toes rises.
Anyway, as we were discussing surfing and such, it was revealed that one of the people in our circle was deathly afraid of the ocean. And, after hearing our horror stories of getting caught in rip currents, getting tumbled by high surf and being stung by jellyfish, her fears were both elevated and verified. And who could blame her? The only thing she knew about the ocean was its inherent danger. The exhilaration felt while riding a perfect wave and the serenity experienced while floating in anticipation for the next set… these are just fictional fantasies found in surf movies and Jack Johnson YouTube videos.
Don’t get me wrong – the dangers are real.
As soon … no, even BEFORE my kids could walk, we started teaching them these inherent dangers, and more importantly, the importance of developing a healthy respect for the ocean. We taught them how to discern when to dive under a wave, through it, or over it. How to look for rip currents below the surface, and what to do not if, but when, they get caught in a rip.
But, none of these lessons prepared my sons for what we experienced at the beaches of Nuevo Vallarta.
How do you teach kids in California how to avoid a crocodile?
That’s right… A couple summers ago, our extended family took an amazing trip to Mexico. But, there was a very unwelcome guest waiting in the water. Understandably, the beaches were closed when the crock was swimming nearby. But, what bothered us was when they closed the beaches a day later for two reasons: 1) the crocodile might come back; and 2) the winds were causing “high surf”… which really meant waves that were around three feet high at the most. It took some doing, but we were able to convince the life guards to give our group some special allowances. After all, we have former life guards, competitive swimmers, water polo players and bonafide beach bums abounding in our clan.
The local guards were convinced that there was nothing to be afraid of, and moreso, there was no inherent danger for us. Because he understood that we had a healthy respect for the ocean… no matter what country we find ourselves in.
You see, for people like my friend and the others under the guard’s care in Mexico… people who haven’t developed a deep respect for the water, it very well could be dangerous. I mean, who’s to know? What I do know is that the only truly dangerous element in the water that week in Mexico was Mr. Crocodile. The perceived danger and ensuing fears of the winds, the waves and the currents were essentially baseless.
Which brings me to COVID-19.
Like Mr. Crocodile, the coronavirus is a real danger. I’m not denying that at all. People dear to me have suffered and even died from it. And, proper precautions should be taken to avoid the danger – just like closing the beach when the crocodile reared his ugly head.
However, I refuse to live in fear of anything. Not the ocean, not the virus, not even the crocodile. You see, there’s a huge difference between a healthy respect for danger and an unhealthy fear of… well, anything.
There are Biblical scholars who have totaled up how many times the Scriptures tell us to “not be afraid”, and according to common core and old school math, the total runs to 365 – one exhortation after another for each and every day of the year to avoid fear.
And, many of them don’t stop there. Many times throughout the Bible, we are told, “Do not be afraid, for I – God – am with you.”
But, if that’s not convincing enough for you to stop being fearful, I’ll turn to another source. Someone far outside of a Biblical context.
Recently, I heard a great writer and philosopher utter the fantastic words: “Danger is very real, but fear is a choice.” Who said that? None other than the great orator of our time, Will Smith! (You laugh now, but you know you thought he was nothing short of profound 30 years ago when he said that parents just don’t understand!)
So, if fear is a choice, then so is courage. And I choose to instruct my kids to be courageous in everything they do.
At the beach, they are courageous when they take on the waves, when they hold their breath longer than what they thought they could while rolling through a shore breaker, and when they swim, and swim, and swim and swim hundreds of meters downshore to get out of a riptide. They choose to abandon any fear and courageously, respectfully enjoy the beach!
Likewise, we should courageously run our businesses, enjoy the outdoors, and COURAGEOUSLY open our schools!
When we’re at the grocery store, it makes sense to wear a mask – you never know when a sudden sneeze will sneak up on you. But, if you’re outdoors and you’re not breathing down other people’s necks, look up and enjoy some unmasked sunshine. It doesn’t make sense that we should wear a mask for the five steps that we walk to a table at a restaurant – even, no especially outdoors – and then take the masks off when we sit down. And it makes no sense at all that restaurants who have pivoted to outdoor dining with overhead protection and outdoor heaters… it goes AGAINST scientific evidence that they should be shut down.
And schools… it has been reported over and over and over again, across the world, that kids are not a hot spot for COVID transmission. And, even if and when they do contract the disease the instances where they are adversely affected are the tiny exception, not the rule. In fact – and I’ve seen it first hand anecdotally, spoken with mental health professionals, as well as seen the data that school lockdowns have hammered our kids with tremendously adverse effects mentally, emotionally, psychologically and academically.
I mean, seriously… what’s the point in school at all – whether it’s in class or virtual, if our kids are SUFFERING emotionally, psychologically and academically? Our schools have been instituted for the exact purpose of STIMULATING and DEVELOPING our kids in all these areas, yet, all over the country, our kids are sent home… when there are NO CROCODILES IN THE CLASSROOMS!
There are no crocodiles in our churches and synagogues, either.
There are “viral riptides”, I admit. Like I said, I have a healthy respect for the virus. But, I also see the absolute NEED for people to connect – in churches, we call it “fellowship” – with other people. And, churches around the world have figured out how to pull it off responsibly, with healthy respect.
And, yes, I keep intentionally using the adjective “healthy” when referring to the respect we need to have for the virus – and for the ocean, for that matter.
If our single concern was to eradicate COVID-19 from the U.S. then there would be no boundaries around what measures we should take… lock everything down until it’s gone and it’s safe to go outside again!!
However, 1) the virus doesn’t work like that; and 2) eradication ISN’T our only concern. We have other top priorities such as Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly, our mental health and well being, and the cohesiveness of our communities to maintain (well, at this point, rebuild).
So, what does a fear-free approach to COVID look like?
Well, we need to be nimble. And, we need to be able to make rational risk / reward calculations for our families as needed. On a micro level, be keenly aware of your family’s surroundings. Are you going to be seeing grandma and grandpa or other high risk people any time soon? If so, raise your caution level. If not, enjoy yourselves! On a more mid-scale level, if you own a business that brings in clientele into an enclosed space, take the necessary steps to make sure that people aren’t stacked on top of one another. In other words, be a smart business owner. If your shop is known as the place where people get sick, you won’t have a shop for very long. That’s just basic business sense. But, if your business is the place where people can get what they need for a competitive price and remain healthy while conducting business… then, by all means, your business should be able to remain open! The same goes for churches. There’s a church nearby here that is offering three different versions of their services: online for those who cannot meet in person, outdoor for those who have moderate needs or concerns, and indoor for those who aren’t high risk. Think about it, why shouldn’t people who are unlikely to die or even get really sick be able to responsibly worship together and connect with one another?
Remember, a quarantine is – by definition – when you isolate the people who are either sick or in danger of being infected from the general population. NOT when you stop the entire population from living in order to “protect” the at risk people from hypotheticals.
On the flip side, a fearful person looks like this. This is a message that was sent to one of my 13-year-olds:
Guys, COVID rates are going up, and if they continue, bad things will happen. Hospital beds will fill up. More people die from COVID. The more we spread it, the longer it will take to get out of it. If you disagree, too bad because outdoor dining is closed for a good reason and social gatherings are closed for a reason and EVERYTHING IS CLOSED FOR A REASON. Every human makes mistakes in their judgment of things, but hard times call for hard measures. Just think of all the people you might be killing: YES, YOU CAN KILL SOMEONE by having social gatherings and going places. So don’t be the one to do it.
This is so wrought with fear and bad information. Are COVID rates going up? Yes. Definitely. In fact, across the country, and for the next several months, I’m certain that we will see significant upticks in cases, hospitalizations, and yes, even deaths. So, this message is correct in that if rates continue to go up, bad things will happen. BUT… and like Pee Wee said, everyone I know has a big but… “we” aren’t spreading it. Only people who have it and aren’t being responsible are. But, what if you’re asymptomatic and spreading it without knowing? According to recent studies, the odds of asymptomatic spread are actually lower than low. The message says that outdoor dining and social gatherings are prohibited “for good reasons”… what are these good reasons? Who determined that the reasons are good? What makes them good? Fearful people aren’t asking these questions, they are just buying this rhetoric wholesale. And, rolling to the end of the message: No, you can’t kill someone by having a social gathering or going places. Only people who have the disease and then interact closely with people who do not – especially high risk individuals AND THEN, those newly infected high risk people would have to be in the minority of actual cases that land them in the ICU. And even then, YOU WOULDN’T HAVE KILLED SOMEONE. The virus did.
Again, don’t get me wrong – I’m not denying that ICU cases are on the rise. I’m simply saying that the fears of all of us being unwitting killers of all of us is simply illogical and unreasonable.
But closing schools, prohibiting kids from playing on outdoor playgrounds, forcing restaurants to offer only to-go service, and taking away business owners’ and customers’ abilities to make their own risk / reward calculations is simply rooted in fear – not actual disease prevention data. And you can tell when the fear mongering is either devoid of data or the data is tweaked for the purpose of instilling fear. When you hear blanket numbers of “cases on the rise” or worse, “total death count”… these numbers aren’t helpful. Nor is it helpful to assess the true risks of a community like… say… North San Diego County when its numbers are combined with every community spanning across the tens of millions of people from San Diego to Mammoth and San Luis Obispo. (For those of you unfamiliar with these cities… google it, or just take my word… it’s a region larger than many states, and therefore it makes NO SENSE AT ALL that these combined numbers should be used to project “community spread”… IT’S NOT A COMMUNITY, IT’S A LAND MASS!).
Then there are those responsible for the fear mongering – the likes of New York Times columnist Elisabeth Rosenthal. And, there are many, many powerful people like her, she’s just one who was bold enough to show her cards when she wrote her recent column literally titled, “It’s Time to Scare People About COVID”. After reading her opinion, I can see two things very clearly: 1) No wonder so many people are filled with fear… they believe this barrage of propaganda hook, line and sinker and 2) There is a conscious effort being made to scare the living hell out of people about COVID, so they make absolutely irrational decisions about their own level of risk and then take irrational actions including cowering at home, afraid that everyone outside is brandishing the disease like a deadly weapon.
So, how do we address a pandemic without fear? Well, for starters, I suggest banning together. It’s nearly impossible to choose courage when you’re all alone. Seek out other courageous people and put your foot down in defiance of people like Elisabeth Rosenthal.
Now, look. The disease is spreading and will continue to spread throughout the next few months – months that are typically referred to as cold and flu season. (which is funny that in past years, medical professionals admit that cold and flu numbers increase every year at this time because people stay indoors during the winter months… and to combat COVID, our officials are demanding that we… STAY INDOORS FOR THE WINTER MONTHS.)
Anyway, in regards to COVID, it’s a pandemic and more people will be hospitalized and die before we reach herd immunity and it goes away. I admit that. But, even in light of that, I refuse – and I encourage you to refuse as well – to live in fear. Don’t stand in judgment of people who are living differently than you. Instead, stand as a beacon of hope and a reminder of how we all behaved on Christmas Day, 2019.
What happened last Christmas? Well, I came down with the stomach flu (no, it wasn’t COVID in December). It was bad. Real bad. I was isolated to the back room. My kids dropped off my sparse meals at the door. My loved ones prayed for me. But nobody shuttered their businesses, cancelled schools or locked themselves up in their own back rooms because I and everyone else with the flu that season were shivering and puking.
Healthy people led healthy lives. Courageously.
Now, I expect a lot of hate mail on this one. I’m ready for it. I also hope and pray that there are a lot of courageous supporters on my side of the debate. And, I expect that the appropriate reactions to reasonable risk assessments will change from month to month. I expect all this because I have a healthy respect for my fellow man as much as I do the disease.
But, I do not fear the disease. I don’t fear people who disagree with me. And I don’t fear the end of this rant. It’s gone too long as it is, I know.
Thanks for your time and patience.
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