Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
– from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
In honor of Tolkien Reading Day (every March 25th, the same day that Frodo threw the One Ring into the Mount Doom’s gaping volcanic maw), I ask you to read the passage above to reflect.
A global pandemic has come to us. We all wish that none of this had happened.
Many hearts are gripped with terror thinking of what – or rather, who – we may have lost already or stand to lose – our loved ones, our own lives…and for some craven fools who are more kin to Nazgûl than human, their stock portfolios and profits.
A dour feeling of powerlessness is sweeping across many folks – perhaps just in fleeting moments, like the sting of cold air across your cheek; perhaps the acidic weight of dread that’s settled daily into your gut…among other emotions.
We don’t want to feel powerless. It’s why many humans love all the various superhero themes in pop culture. It’s why one of the most devastating episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is season 5’s “The Body” where Buffy – the ‘chosen one’ gifted with supernatural abilities that has defeated every Big Bad that she’s met – comes home to find her mother dead of a simple brain aneurysm. We can’t punch our way through very human maladies.
But we can do something – decide what to do with the time that is given to us.
So if that feeling of powerlessness has been slowly sliding over you as lava slid over Gollum in his final moments, then I urge you to fight past that. Don’t let it consume you. We need you. Society needs you.
Be like Gandalf.
Great evil has risen – not just the virus but the duplicitous fiends who run different areas of government and are essentially advocating for human sacrifice to sate the economy – or rather, their own multi-million and billion dollar accounts (not even Saruman was this evil).
Gandalf was practical and the quintessential man (technically Maia) with a plan. He sought knowledge, from chatting with hobbits to deep discussions with the elves to scouring over books in the White City. He didn’t always make friends because he asked hard questions and advocated for the right thing, which made people in power quite uncomfortable. He learned pity and patience from Nienna, one of the Valar, and those lessons served him well in Middle-Earth.
So what can we do, to be like Gandalf during COVID-19 Pandemic?
1. Determine what is in your scope of power and ability, but dare to dream.
“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” – Gandalf, The Return of the King
We cannot do everything. For some of us, chronic illness/disability, caregiving for loved ones, or other components of life can sometimes make just changing our clothes and getting out of bed difficult. For some, COVID-19 is compounding their already existing conditions like anxiety and depression, or re-triggering old traumas. Listen, our most essential goal is survival. Showering, eating, and other forms of basic care – if you only have the spoons for a small amount of personal actions, take care of yourself. Settle into your hobbit hole.
For those who have the ability, consider what more you can do. Focus on 1-5 things that are withing your sphere of influence. For me, that looks like:
- Making sure my family is okay and has what they need (mom is high-risk, and I am beyond worried). Grocery shopping, very carefully driving mom to an upcoming surgery, keeping the house surfaces clean, etc etc.
- I work with medical students and my job is literally community engagement, so all my energy is going into supporting students through the traumatic/difficult experiences that COVID-19 is causing + creating service opportunities around public health. I don’t have the time outside of work and family to volunteer directly with nonprofits, but I have the fortune to connect with nonprofits through my work and develop opportunities.
- In my own time, keep up on public policy and contact my politicians so they listen to science and reason, instead of oranges in ill-fitting suits.
- That 2nd one is truthfully 20 different things rolled up in one, and I know how easy it is to burn bright and burn out quickly (like the phial containing the light of Eärendil after being smashed by a giant spider), so I’m investing in self-care. Family time, walks outside, snuggles with kitties, playing Witcher 3, watching Witcher (for the 4th time lol) and Kim’s Convenience Store on Netflix. Oh yeah, and trying out therapy, because mental health with professional support is very important!
2. Flatten the Curve Like a Hobbit, and Settle in for 18 Months or Longer
“Short cuts make long delays.” – Pippin, The Fellowship of the Ring
Many are finding the drastic changes to their daily lives very difficult right now. Hearing that you need to get used to it until maybe November 2021 or sometime in 2022…well, that probably isn’t what you want to hear. But we need to do this – taking a short cut now will delay our society’s chance in functioning normally (and lead to many deaths).
Clashing with public health experts, President Trump wants to re-open the country for business by April 12th – on Easter.The president may have confused the meaning of the holiday, mistakenly believing that the resurrection of Jesus Christ (the same being who told the rich to give up their possessions if they wanted to get into Heaven; Mathew 19:21) also stands for the resurrection of the economy.
Either way, public health experts have issued a series of recommendations based on outbreak science. Some of the statements include:
- There are 2 ways of ending this pandemic. (1) A vaccine is the goal, and many scientists are working on this, but it will take 1-1.5 years for the vaccine to move to human trials and then longer for testing and final FDA approval. And then longer to mass produce the vaccine, ship it out, and give it to people (Johns Hopkins). We simply don’t know when it will be ready. (2) Eventually we will reach herd immunity. Ideally, because of social distancing and other mitigation and (preferably) suppression measures, the virus will slowly spread through the population to a point that the hospitals will not become overwhelmed and everyone can receive full treatment. As folks recover, they will have immunity (but we aren’t sure for how long).
- The widely trusted Imperial College Report has numbing statistics that have influenced the reluctant UK and USA governments to act. If we as a society do nothing, COVID-19 will kill 2.2. million people in the U.S. by July or August this year [graph]. One day in June would result in the death of 55,000 people. That is terrifying.
- Our first option to “flatten the curve” is what we are currently doing – mitigation. “In this scenario, population immunity builds up through the epidemic, leading to an eventual rapid decline in case numbers and transmission dropping to low levels” (Imperial College). We are essentially slowing down the transmission of COVID-19 but not halting it altogether. Social distancing, hand washing, etc.
- Our second option to “flatten the curve” is what several Asian countries have done, and it has accomplished success – suppression. Essentially, we are severely decreasing virus transmission and even grinding it to a halt. Everyone needs to be tested (since many infected folks are asymptomatic) and folks with the virus must be quarantined. Until we know who is ill, the “stay in place” orders that some states have must be a reality across the U.S.
- I’m not saying we must shut everything down for 2 years. As Carroll & Jha (2020) described, if we amp up testing and production of medical equipment & treatment locations, we can make it out of this with more people alive and society still somewhat functioning. We can prepare now, get through spring and summer, and see transmissions slow. Once late fall/winter arrive, it is expected that COVID-19 will come back with a vengeance. But we can practice suppression efforts (close schools and businesses, stay home) as patient cases increase, and then get patients tested, treated, and isolated. As cases decrease, suppression efforts can be lifted. Throughout the winter and spring, this will ebb and flow as we protect hospitals from being overwhelmed.
- Get comfortable with a more difficult life. This is our reality in a pandemic, and we are all in it together. American traditional (and post-9/11) values have led to COVID-19 spreading like skittering goblins across a mountain cave. Although the time period was not perfect, now is the time to look towards World War II era societal and individual sacrifices (not lives! But like being compliant with stay-at-home-orders and not having a year’s worth of toilet paper) for the good of all.
3. Public Policy Advocacy, like Gandalf the White Counseling King Théoden
“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” – Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring
It is frustrating that the political party that invented the “death panels” lie of what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would come to be in 2009, is now essentially eager for such a reality. The New England Journal of Medicine has published “Fair Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources in the Time of Covid-19” and other organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) are helping physicians grapple with the ethics of the upcoming surge in COVID-19 critical patients. Ultimately, what it means, is that a scarcity of medical treatment options – like our nation’s limited supply of ventilators – will mean that some critically ill individuals may not receive treatment (to get an idea, review the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment [SOFA] Score) if it is not likely they would survive compared to the other patients.
Look into trusted organizations and news sources:
- AAMC Advocacy & Policy COVID-19 Resources – “The AAMC serves and leads the academic medicine community to improve the health of all.”
- American Medical Association (AMA) public health page, + their policy recommendations/options to state governments
- Brief19, with daily policy updates on COVID-19, is run by MDs,
- NPRCoronavirus news page
- Share additional sources in the comments!
Here are things to advocate for:
- President Trump needs to invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950 to have U.S. factories stop production of their private goods, and instead mass produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, ventilators, and more. Trump first said he would and now (perhaps due to business lobbyists) has declined, telling state governors that “Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work, and they are doing a lot of this work…The Federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk” (White House Statement). Tell your congressional representative and senator that they need to pressure Trump for this to happen.
- Advocate to your state leaders (governor, state rep, state senator, city council and mayor) to put suppression strategies in place and keep them in place as long as needed. Pages 5-6 of the Imperial College Report share 5 different Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention (NPI) Scenarios and the report goes into detail on how all the strategies are crucial for survival. In order to not overwhelm our hospitals and have millions dead, we need to continue suppression strategies for as long as needed. The states who have “Stay at Home” orders have it right, but they have to be okay with extending it (things will be intense through May at least). States like Texas, where the Lt Governor essentially said “Old People Should Volunteer to Die to Save the Economy“, have a hurdle in advocating to their leaders…but keep at it.
Here’s how to contact elected officials:
- Use www.usa.gov/elected-officials to find fed, state, and local folks.
- Or, this CommonCause website is WAY easier and lists everyone. They are an organization that advocates for redistricting.
- Once you find the phone numbers for your senators, congressional rep, state rep, and state senator, PUT THEM IN YOUR PHONE. Do like me and just casually call them to share your concerns on a weekly or daily basis. Call after-hours to leave a voicemail if you don’t want to talk to a real person.
- Emails also work well – it can be nice to have something more tangible to track.
- Politicians listen to voters the most (after, I must cynically add, corporate donors thanks to (Citizens United) so visit Vote411 (run by non-partisan group The League of Women Voters) that you are registered/get registered. Also google you local county Board of Elections or your state’s Secretary of State website to check.
4. Serve Your Community
Only a small part is played in great deeds by any hero.” – Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring
You may be just one person, who can do just one part to help our society, but if everyone did one action step, we can accomplish great deeds. The idea of a single “chosen one” to save society is a myth – instead we need a fellowship.
Food banks, Meals on Wheels, homeless shelters, and other similar organizations that are run predominantly by retired and older folks, need new volunteers so regular volunteers can stay home and safe. COVID-19 pandemic has caused a critical need for blood and platelets, so donate blood if you’re eligible and willing. Many local United Ways are collecting specific COVID-19 volunteer needs on their websites. Many communities – though faith-based groups or citizen-run groups – are helping elderly and immunocompromised folks get groceries or doing childcare for healthcare workers. Overall, google is your friend here in finding opportunities, but a lot of content is being shared on social media and on the news – this is the best path to finding local opportunities.
For those of you who don’t have to worry about finances, give to local funds supporting artists, domestic workers, and hospitality employees who all have lost jobs or had hours cut. Give money to organizations helping to address major social needs that will only be exacerbated by COVID-19 (domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, food pantries, youth organizations, etc)
5. Do not Despair. Have Hope.
“Despair, or folly? It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all about. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.” – Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring
During the Council of Elrond an argument breaks out on the idea to destroy The One Ring, and Gandalf speaks the words above to caution the group. If one assumes they see the end result of a task, one that they presume will end badly, they will despair. Much as Denethor, the Steward of Gondor despaired falsely when he believe the Dark Lord would overcome Gondor. Reason left him, and he sought death for himself and his son, to save them from the coming darkness.
Do not despair! It is wise for us to understand the reality of this pandemic and to take appropriate action. We cannot hope falsely and place our lives into the hands of elected officials, who we assume will work for the betterment of society; not all will, as they have been corrupted by greed as the Nine Rings once corrupted the mortal kings of old, who devolved into the Nazgûl. We must be active in making sure positive change happens if we have the energy and health to do so.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – Haldir, The Fellowship of the Ring
Take a breath, as deeply as you can. Look outside. Remember what you have – be it breath, or the people or resources in your life…It can be so difficult to be thankful during a global stressful situation, but sometimes we need to simply be and reflect.
Have hope, friends. And please, take care of yourself out there.
Happy Tolkien Reading Day ❤
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – Thorin, The Hobbit
Want to add to the conversation? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore
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