In 1948 author C.S. Lewis responded to the greatest fear the world was facing, a fear far more destructive than a virus. It was the new atomic bomb. Unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States just three years earlier, the atomic bomb was the talk of the world. It ended World War II, but kick-started the Cold War and ushered in a new era of fear. No wonder poet W.H. Auden dubbed the 20th century the Age of Anxiety.
Lewis wrote, “We think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. How are we to live in an atomic age? I am tempted to reply: why, as you would in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed as you are living now in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
Lewis continued, “In other words let us not exaggerate the novelty of our situation. We and all whom we love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”
I suspect we get Lewis’ point and can understand its application to us today. He was not minimizing the seriousness of a crisis. He was saying we shouldn’t be ruled by fear. For worriers, Lewis’ words might not provide much comfort, but a little context might help. America is now experiencing a pause. A nation born out of a frontier spirit doesn’t like pauses. Unlike most of the world, we have experienced only four major ones: a civil war, two world wars, and a tremendous economic depression. Sept. 11, 2001, and the 2007-’08 recession didn’t stop us in our tracks as these four did or as the coronavirus is doing now.
In contrast to these four and now our fifth major pause, the Middle East, Asia, South America and Europe are quite accustomed to pauses. Military coups, natural disasters and political unrest have been a constant in the rest of the world but have not plagued America. Only recently have we had the problem of the losing party refusing to accept the results of an election. In many other countries this is common.
Bordered by two vast oceans and protected by the world’s most powerful military machine, Americans are riled by anything that slows us down. The world is our oyster. Or so we have believed and behaved. But here we are now, not at a pause but a near stoppage. How should we then live? Actions speak louder than words, but reactions speak louder than actions. We will soon see whether the hoarders will outnumber the givers and whether our goal is survival and self-absorption or serving our fellow citizens.
There are positive effects that can and should emanate from our social distancing. One is home schooling. Not what the public schools send home for students to do, but what parents require of children and teens shutdown at home. Reading is important but not as important as learning about cooking, cleaning, tolerating and sharing. If we’re expecting a few months of pause, we had better work on family unity and homemaking skills. Yes, homemaking. That forgotten and now forbidden “sexist” word buried by our schools in “life skills.”
To call once more on C.S. Lewis: “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only and that is to support the ultimate career.”
Lewis is right. We work to bring money home. We marry and build a home (not a house just yet). We bring groceries home. We pursue a career for personal satisfaction but we still eventually head home. We pity the home-less.
Truth is, lots of family members are going to drive each other crazy. But if we learn to do without, or learn that America, too, is susceptible to the troubles that other nations have faced, we will be a stronger nation, realizing how blessed we are and how spoiled we have been.
The strongest antidote for fear is faith in God and a strong, loving home. Failure to come home and honor home and family will do to America what no bomb or no virus can ever do. We are about to see just how strong our nation actually is.