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We haven’t been required to kill a lion with a knife or touch an enemy with a stick—measures of maturity once part of particular traditions. Some of the guys I knew in college believed their test of manhood involved chugging alcohol. They didn’t seem to emerge as better men, so I suspect initiation is less transition to a higher plane than proof the subject would mindlessly obey any sort of command to be accepted by peers—an act of humbling submission. A true coming-of-age test requires an individual to go deep within him/herself to call forth courage, creativity, and stamina. It is both an emotional and physical trial in the truest sense. Not everyone triumphs. It isn’t easy or fun, so such tests aren’t popular within modern society.
When are we required, forced, to care about others at our own expense? Many people can’t even bear buying gifts for others if the purchase will take funds or effort away from personal resources. As members of the majority, we’ve lived as self-centered members of the society—probably for the whole of our lives. A few of us have sacrificed for family or friends—giving time or money or space or peace of mind to contribute to the whole. Recently, we’ve seen medical personnel and some of those who support essential services risk their relationships with their families (they couldn’t embrace their own children when they came home from work for fear of spreading infection) and often their lives to perform their jobs caring for strangers. Some died or are dying. All are suffering emotional trauma. Clearly, they’re passing the test.
But what about the rest of us? Some are suffering severe hardships due to quarantine. They can’t provide for their families in the way they did before. We don’t like to do without. Their personal finances are in jeopardy through no fault of their own. Some will lose businesses they worked hard to create. And some don’t want to be told what to do—especially by people with whom they don’t identify—regardless of why they’re being told. I wonder what the individual stories are of those who recently protested social distancing in Michigan. Do they comprehend the nature of invisible international contagion? Have they lost any personal friends or family to COVID-19 yet? Do they understand their gathering extends the need for social distancing for everyone else because some of them are carriers spreading more disease without their knowing? It’s like sending your kid to school when the other kids have lice, pink eye or strep but their parents haven’t told the school. Protestors say they’d rather die than stay home for a while. Do they understand they’re making that choice for others who might prefer to live? Old people aren’t the only ones to fall victim.
Sometime life demands more of us than dying would. As we move forward, we may have to work at living. We may need to reach out to help others more than we planned. We know many decisions are being made for us by people who don’t understand or perhaps don’t care about casualties. They have different priorities. War veterans can tell you about being sent into harm’s way by distant authorities when the goal clearly wasn’t worth the cost. It happens. We may have to go through a test we didn’t agree to take. Not everyone faces the same difficulties. Be proud as you triumph over quarantine and its aftermath. You’re doing the equivalent of killing a lion with a knife.