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Saunders: Myriad questions with few definitive answers, and one hope

Sometimes cartoons say better what we are feeling than any other medium. As I started to write this column at the end of June, I came across the Frank & Ernest cartoon of June 29, in which Frank says to Ernest as the Amusement Park finally opens: “For the past few months we’ve been on a roller coaster ride even without the park being open.”

And indeed it has felt like a roller coaster ride with one major exception. Usually when we get on a roller coaster we know that we will experience ups and downs and twists and turns, some of them scaring us unmercifully but all with the expectation of returning to safety and normalcy when the ride is finished. That has not been the case with our recent experiences on a “roller coaster” that has included “reeling from the impact of COVID 19 and struggling with the painful legacy of racial injustice, all intensified by political and cultural polarization.” (This quotation was taken from a letter written by Dr. Shirley Mullen, President of Houghton College in New York State, my alma mater.) Rather, we do not know the outcome of this terrifying time; we have been bombarded every day with news that leaves us with more questions than answers.

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From the very beginning of the pandemic questions swirled. Wuhan, China — where is that in China? Coronavirus — what is that? Does it come from bats? COVID-19 — why that name? What are the symptoms? Is all the world being affected? How many do we think will get it in the U.S.?

Who can we believe, who can we trust?

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How many deaths do we expect? How many have died already? Does the virus only affect older people in frail health? How many have been hospitalized? In ICUs? On ventilators? Why don’t we have enough ventilators? PPE? How does this pandemic compare with the flu of 1918?

When can we expect a cure, when a vaccine?

What do you mean we should stay at home? Not go to work? Shelter in place? Is this a war? Wear a face mask when I go out? What is social distancing? A new dance? When can I get my hair cut? Why didn’t we take precautions sooner? What did the president know and when did he know it? Drink bleach for a cure?

Who can we believe, who can we trust?

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How will children learn if not in school? Where is the quality and equality in that kind of education? How can parents be expected to work at home and be the surrogate teachers for their children as well?

When can we expect a cure, when a vaccine?

How can I close my business? Furlough my employees? How can we pay our bills and feed our families? Why does Trump say this won’t last long and the doctors, Fauci and Birx, say just the opposite? Why doesn’t the president wear a mask?

Who can we believe, who can we trust?

Why is the U.S. being hit so hard by this pandemic? Spikes? What are “flattened curves”? Why don’t people realize that they are vulnerable, no matter their age? Why can’t all people follow the rules to help defeat this pandemic? New symptoms — now what? What do you mean the pandemic is spiking again? How long will we live with this “new normal”?

When can we expect a cure, when a vaccine?

What is the economic outlook? What happens when those government bailout checks stop? What happens when those unemployment checks stop? How will we ever overcome the trillions of dollars in indebtedness? Should we put our money under the mattress?

When will all this madness end?

If these questions were not enough to put us in a panic, then along came the undeserved death of George Floyd and others that shattered our “new normal” and led to social unrest and protests against racism and police brutality. Are we headed for a civil conflict that pits the police against the demonstrators? Or, a racial conflict? To compensate for police killings of Black people will we defund the police, disband the police? Will that lead to lawlessness? Or, to greater cultural polarization that is only enhanced by the polarization in our political world? Will November’s election bring that to an end? Or, only spread greater discord?

When will all this madness end?

If all these difficult questions seem to have no definitive answers, then where do we turn? When all else seems to give no assurances, where do we turn? And just what is the role of faith in all of this uncertainty?

The very familiar Psalm 23 of the Judeo-Christian faith may provide some answers: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need” (verse 1, NLT). The second statement is dependent on the first statement, meaning that we shall not want anything else when we have the Lord as our shepherd. As Arthur Jackson, a writer for Our Daily Bread states: “This declaration of confidence is followed by words that convey God’s active presence at all times in all places. The terrain doesn’t matter — green pastures, still waters, dark valleys, enemy territory, and on into eternity. ... God’s ‘ever-presentness’ is a reality apart from trouble. ... Life’s scenery is guaranteed to change; life’s Shepherd doesn’t.”

Perhaps Psalm 23 should be part of our “new normal” creed for living, hopefully giving assurance in the midst of all these questions and madness! And you thought this Psalm was only for funerals!

Hermine Saunders writes from Westminster. Her Prime column appears on the second Sunday of the month.

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