So I just found out today that my both my elderly aunt and uncle have tested positive for COVID 19. Both of them belong to a very conservative church, and have like so many Americans been fed a heavy stream of lies and misinformation. Though several members of the family had pleaded with them to get vaccinated, they both resisted, despite their age and several additional health issues. Of course, they did not. Why? They refused to get vaccinated because their church has been vehemently opposed to every single measure to address the virus since the beginning; starting with the “hoax”, pivoting smoothly to “little flue”, then digging in hard to “personal freedoms”. There were some added sprinklings of “government plot”, “it’s in gods hands”, “liberal political agenda”, “trying to make trump look bad” and a brief return to “hoax” from time to time.
Yep, they ran in that kind of crowd. It pains me to say it, but they were also trump voters; as you’ve probably already guessed. I can’t say they were trump supporters exactly; they often said how they didn’t particularly like him, but they liked his policies. What specific policies they liked, or more importantly why they liked them, is a topic I chose not to delve into. Besides that, I haven’t exactly been close in many years. Still, I’m writing this with a heavy heart, and deep concern for their health. My uncle, in particular, is not doing particularly well. He is currently hospitalized and extremely weak, and struggling with very basic tasks.
This really isn’t a rant on how bad my ultra conservative aunt and uncle are. On the contrary; they are both incredibly kind, loving, generous, and genuinely good people in every sense of the word. Almost every sense of the word. It would be really easy to write this with countless examples that would give each and every one of us just cause to write them off entirely. In a way, I suppose I have written them off to some degree. Many years ago, when I became more aware of just how radically conservative their church was, I allowed myself to drift away from them and would just shake my head every time I heard another example of some new looney cause they had taken up. Despite all that, the few times here and there where we would spend time together in person were always enjoyable. I would always take note of just how good it felt to catch up a bit, and we always steered well clear of religious or political topics. It was clear to me that they were making a concerted effort to stick to the personal stuff, and avoid challenging my perspectives on hot button issues. I always respected that, and made sure to do the same.
Despite the less than flattering introduction, I actually have mostly fond memories of both. My uncle was always quick with a joke, liked to laugh big, and has always had a presence that would fill the room. As a little kid, he was one of my favorites! He loved to play and be goofy, was a ferocious tickler, and was the sort of uncle who just might tell you things that other adults wouldn’t just yet. He just might say them in terms that were a wee bit more colorful too. My aunt was in many ways his opposite. She was the sort that just had this very calm, quiet strength. Where my uncle was comfortable being the center of attention, telling stories, telling jokes, playing games or playing pranks; my aunt was the sort who could say a lot without needing to say much. She wasn’t shy; but she was the sort of person who liked to be efficient with her use of words, and generally communicated a lot with things like body language and her own mood and energy. Her energy was almost always like a warm blanket of love and joy, and the things she did say were usually acutely perceptive, positive, and supportive. Reconciling these qualities with some of their religious and political views has always been a perplexing thing for me, but I can say for certain that they are both very genuinely good people to the core.
Hearing that they both contracted COVID 19, was both to be expected and yet still a shock. This has been a pretty rough roller coaster for them, both physically and emotionally. They both seem to be on the verge of admitting that they made a terrible mistake, but so far none of us are punishing them for their past decisions. They both have been manipulated and brainwashed, for decades, by their church community; so it’s easy to have some empathy for where they are now. They have deliberately guarded themselves against all outside perspectives that challenged those of their church; largely because this was drilled into the hearts and minds of every single member of their church.
You must accept “the word of god” with faith, even when it may not seem right to you, for “god works in mysterious ways”. Moreso, you must reject those who try to challenge “the word of god”, and not let yourselves be fooled by the deception and trickery of others … even those who may believe they are doing so with good intentions in their hearts. Etc. etc. etc.
They believed in what they were told; of course they did, what else would they believe in? They listened to the voices, and the perspectives of those that they were told to listen to; and they ignored the voices and perspectives of those they were told to ignore. Voices like teachers, doctors, scientists, newspapers and other media. I say they are a member of a conservative church, but in many ways they are members of a cult. I really do hope that they both are able to pull through, and survive this experience with minimal long term health consequences. It is infuriating to see how they and so many others have been lied to and manipulated to such perverse perspectives on reality. I feel sad and frustrated that my family members are suffering because of this, and I feel extremely angry at those who have been perpetuating these amplifying lies and spreading fears...but this diary really isn’t about them either.
I am not a religious person, though I’m open minded enough to know that there are many things in this world that we are far from understanding. I’m ok with that; I prefer it that way actually. Perhaps there may be some sort of higher being, a god, or not? It matters not to me, and I do not need to know of the existence of a god to feel a sense of connection to the great unknown; nor do I need to believe in a god to feel the need to take meaning from life’s twists and turns, and to grow from the challenges that it presents. But to put it in their language, I do believe that god has spoken to them; and there are lessons for them to learn, things they must do, etc. I do not know whether or not they will listen, as we often have a way of ignoring that which we most need to hear and to see; but I really hope they can take this terrible experience and draw from it that which would serve them best. There is so much they could learn from this. When I think about this though, it’s hard not to ask myself what opportunities there might be for me to learn and grow from this experience too. I think there are a few things that any one of us could learn from this.
Among the things I see that I can take from this is a reminder that there is more humanity than we sometimes see in the news these days. That things are often not quite so black and white, cut and dried, right and wrong, good and evil, etc. Especially when it comes to people. We all hold a bit of Yin and a bit of Yang within us, and we can find some of either one if we go digging for it. I make no excuses for my aunt and uncle; after all they did freely choose to involve themselves with their particular church, and there are quite possibly other people who may become infected by one of them. At the same time, I can see them as good people who took a wrong turn or two, who were mislead and manipulated; things that could happen to each of us a lot easier than we might like to admit. I can hold both feelings as valid simultaneously, while neither of them is entirely correct independently. This hasn’t been easy. As a child, I grew up seeing people as either good orbad; and good people were nice, and bad people were mean. It’s been an ongoing process to try and reconcile those times where a good person does something really bad, or where a bad person suddenly does something really good.
I see this as a solid reminder of just what sorts of things good people are capable of when they believe they are fighting for a righteous cause. It is a reminder that it is far too easy to find “facts” to support just about any “truth” that we wish; and that things like love and compassion can and should transcend beyond political and religious ideologies. I know in my mind, and in my heart, that there is no good reason to be so stubbornly unwilling to respect the real threat that Covid 19 poses to our fellow human beings, and to act accordingly; but I also can see that there is still a fundamental need to see my aunt and my uncle for the loving family members that they are. Warts and all. They are far from perfect, but then so am I. I hope that perhaps, just perhaps, they both may be able to take this as a moment to pause and reflect on the disconnect between what they have been taught to believe and what they now know is real. I hope they may come to see that there are a lot more valid voices and perspectives than the very narrow set that they have limited themselves to, and that they have allowed themselves to be manipulated by. I also hope that if any of you were to cross paths with my aunt or my uncle that you might be able to see more than just an “anti vax trumper”; they are so much more than that. That is what this diary is really about; how can we begin to see one another as human beings again, and not be blinded by such absolute categorical judgments? In what ways can we ourselves make this world a more understanding, tolerant, and loving place?
Stay safe, and please encourage friends and loved ones to get their damn vaccine!