OK, y’all. I am writing from my faith tradition and my patriotic bent. There, you are warned. So, settle in and let’s go.
The people of my grandparents’ generation are long gone.
As a storyteller, it’s my job to convey to my world a bit of long-view wisdom that I, myself, have lived long enough to have gleaned from those elders, nuggets of truth that I find valuable, truisms that may have been forgotten.
Mind you, I’m not going to get bogged down in simple nostalgia. The older I get the more I know that simple nostalgia is a marketable state. If you doubt that, just walk into a Cracker Barrel, look at the walls, and wonder who it was that sold that early photograph of their great grandmother — probably the only photograph of that person ever taken. “Hey, Becky, look here. I bet we can get $80 for Maw-maw!”
Pining for the overly-idealized good-old-days brings about a certain kind of righteous social appetency that is of little use. Be careful, nostalgists, you may miss out on living in the present.
I’ve written this before, but in the Dictionary of Offutt, there’s a difference between nostalgia and sentimentality.
Nostalgia wishes for comfort.
Sentimentality wishes to comfort.
The sentimental heart yearns with empathy; empathy brings us outside ourselves and prods us to act and to offer help, and in the best situations, to empower. With that in mind, I want to convey an idea that I am sentimental about.
There is a saying I grew up with and it astonishes me that I haven’t heard it in the year 2020. It is a saying for our time.
For those who bleed Red, White, and Blue, this little adage is attributed to one of America’s most noted polymaths and, I will confess, my favorite founding father: the printer, humorist, scientist, writer, inventor, thinker, ambassador, penitent abolitionist, and because of his fervid efforts for colonial unity, the one who was named by his fellows, The First American — Benjamin Franklin.*
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Now, lower this newspaper for a few seconds, take a deep breath, and ponder that sentence before I move on to another historic figure with some wisdom to impart.
• • •
During our current pandemic, I have heard over and over, “This is unprecedented!”
Well, no, it isn’t, actually. In the history of humanity, and more specifically, Christendom, COVID-19 ain’t our first quarantine rodeo. You‘ve got your Plague of 1347, aka: “The Black Death.” Then you’ve got your Bubonic Plague of 1527. And of course, I grew up hearing plenty of wash-your-hands commentary from the old people of my childhood regarding the Flu Pandemic of 1918.
During that Bubonic Plague of 1527, the noted priest, monk, theologian, and reformation-rabble-rouser Martin Luther penned an open letter titled, Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague. I took the time to read the whole thing, and as letters go, it’s pretty long. I mean, not U.S.-congressional-COVID-relief-bill long, but still, Luther’s letter comes in at some 8,500 words.
In that letter, Martin Luther says things like:
“Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid persons and places where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”
And Martin Luther did just that. Before “germs” were even discovered, learned people knew that the disease was carried from person to person. Martin Luther ministered to the downtrodden and dying. But he avoided the public when he wasn’t tending to the sick.
That, my friends, is called finding a balance.
On a day when Jesus was tested by a smart aleck lawyer as to how to inherit eternal life, the Lord prodded that fellow to recite the most important commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.”
And when the lawyer asked Jesus, “And Who is my
neighbor?” Jesus told him the story of The Good Samaritan.
It is notable that when Jesus was telling that story, the response from the Samaritan to the man assaulted and dying on the road was nothing along the lines of:
“I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers, brother.”
“Name it and claim it and be healed!”
No, Jesus is calling on his faithful to act.
Therefore, to those of you who might quip, “It’s my right as an American not to wear a mask and socially distance,” I ask you, what would Benjamin Franklin do? What would any Founding Father do?
And for Christians who pound on about their right to crowd together at their churches, I ask, what would Martin Luther do?
And as for Jesus, it is curious to notice a newer adage-turned-acronym that has fallen out of vogue of late... WWJD?
*For those who are eager to remind me that Franklin was a flawed person, my answer is: so was Washington. So was Jefferson. So was Luther. So was that lawyer questioning Jesus. And so am I.
Andy Offutt Irwin, a citizen of Covington, Georgia, is a traveling storyteller on quarantine hiatus. He is a backsliding United Methodist.