Morning Pages 18 March 20

And even now, there are moments that seem pleasant, hopeful, when I am excited to complete something, to start some new thing. The world feels familiar. Comfortable. Briefly ordinary.

But like waking from one dream into another, it washes over me that this is not the world I live in now. I might never live in that once-upon-a-time again. No one will.

BC: Before COVID AD: After Dystopia

We are protected here in rural Floyd County to some degree by our long-standing propensity to shelter in place. Houses are, for the most part, at some distance apart. A person can go days without seeing anybody but the mailman go by at noon.

And when we gather, it is rarely in groups of more than 200–other than the high school gym, the highest capacity in Floyd County for holding a group.

Even the county seat is low-density by big-city standards. The town of Floyd holds some 450 people on almost 300 acres, twenty miles from the nearest interstate. Isolated. Remote. Backwaters. And yet…

We are not free of risk in the current crisis. All it will take is Patient Zero, who visited a Virginia Tech world traveler or just returned from a conference in California. That unknowingly infected person sheds virus at the grocery store. Patient Two carries it to church the next day.

We need not be needlessly paranoid. Many of us might not need change our day-to-day at-home lifestyle much at all for a while. I guess not knowing how long that while might last makes me anxious. When will we see our friends again? And my mom in assisted living: we may never meet again in this life. It’s possible.

Patient Three is my age. Healthy. Active. I probably know them. They get tested (this is in June when tests are finally available, and that is when Patients One and Two are deduced, well after the fact.) They have COVID19, are quarantined at home at first, then admitted to Lewis Gale Montgomery–a crow mile from mom; near the center of a major university of tens of thousands of students and faculty and facility workers.

Those early admits are among the more fortunate who require hospital space, equipment and professional care. If you have to be hospitalized, be in the first wave before the upturn in the hockey stick of logarithmic increase in full-blown cases.

And so in my ordinary, solitary, bucolic retired life, I get up in the morning and make the coffee. I spread out the things I want to explore, think, or write about. I make and prioritize my list of tasks by the usual categories. I am pulled into a thread about some part of the world where a new reptile has been discovered. I am momentarily absorbed into that realm of life, that culture, those people and creatures in far-away villages in Indonesia. Fascinating.

And then it invades my reverie and fragile focus: where ever that place is in the world, their lives are no longer ordinary, casual or in their control. The shadow of pandemic darkens all their lives, too. And they will never be the same on the other side.

It will come –The Other Side. What will it be like? How will it be different from the world, BC? It could be better. The world system is having a Dope Slap event; a come-to-Jesus moment. We can’t go on the way we were going, BC.

We can’t treat the planet and each other that way, so very very many of us, so very very acquisitive and indifferent and selfish. We can’t put people in power who don’t respect people and planet more than profit. We can’t defy science, thinking humans are somehow less animal flesh than bats or mosquitos.

In my hopeful moments of temporary oblivion, I know there will be a few changes that put band-aids on severed limbs of civilization. But mostly when the shareholders are happy again, human enterprise will pick up just where it left off, save for the millions who died, and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that went extinct, AD, never to rise again.

And so these fleeting moments of blissful ignorance, of flow, of the joy in the moments of immutable beauty of earth and sky just out my door–that will be where I try to live. As much as possible. I will seek solace in the knowing we have never been eternal in this life. We live in a world of material consequences. Things fall apart. But life in this body is a vapor. And there is eternity built into us.

And I will think on these things.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Oh, and the lovely photo. Please always include one, and please write often. We really need you now. I have tears in my eyes thinking about how much I get from your posts. Please, please.

  2. Hello again Mr. First. I am Cora Carmouche, one of the students you spoke to at Faith Christian School. While being surrounded by the panic of the media, it’s refreshing to see a focus on what will come after this disease runs its course. Perhaps it’s not a universal experience, but I was wondering, how would you suggest city-dwelling folk, trapped in their own houses, get a glimpse of the immutable beauty of the world? I liked what you wrote about how we won’t go on treating the earth as selfishly after this covid-19 mess is over and done with. So many aspects of life will feel different, like business transactions, personal interactions, and hopefully the way people appreciate the outdoors. When the AD years are upon us and the quarantining is no longer necessary, I just hope that more people will have learned to better appreciate the other people in their lives, even if the only one they see daily is their postman.

  3. Greetings, Mr. First! My name is Olivia Shreeman and, as a senior at Faith Christian School, I had the privilege of hearing you speak to our class a few months ago. Thank you for writing such a timely article, such wise words are welcome in the bizarre time we find ourselves in today. I have a question about one of your points that you made at the end of your article. I admire your final paragraph in which you describe the solace you take in your own finite existence, and I affirm that this idea is indeed comforting in the wake of disaster. My question is this: what is the best way to maintain the balance between anxiety about our future that will indeed be impacted by such things as COVID-19 and the potential complacency that might creep into our subconscious, wishing away our situation with meaningless platitudes such as “Well, I’m going to die anyway.” Said again more simply, how should we best balance over-care and under-care, unnecessary panic about an uncontrollable situation and ignorant complacency blamed on our own finiteness?
    I do believe that this virus comes as a wake-up call to our nation, a “come-to-Jesus” moment as you said. We have been given a grand opportunity to reevaluate our dealing with numerous issues, yet I also fear this chance will vanish as soon as everything is right side up again.
    We are not perfect, the very fiber of our beings is fractured due to the heavy weight of sin upon us. The same goes for our nation, it is indeed far from perfect. And, as you have said, humanity will continue in its slow downward spiral as soon as this virus has passed. However, I would hope that each individual would pursue their own personal version of “shalom;” that they would follow your advice and spend time in the refreshing beauty of nature, hold their loved ones a little bit tighter, and look back on this season with the satisfaction of knowing that they bloomed right where they were planted.

  4. Good afternoon, Mr. First. My name is Hannah, and I am in Mr. Mann’s Senior Literature class. After reading your post, the one line that stood out to me was “We can’t treat the planet and each other that way, so very very many of us, so very very acquisitive and indifferent and selfish.” I have to agree with you on this statement. Could the coronavirus be a sign from God that we need to treat each other and the world around us better? Maybe the home quarantine will teach us to not take the things that are most valuable in life for granted such as the innumerable freedoms we have in America, seeing our friends and family every day, or even traveling in this beautiful world that God has made. As I start to wonder what life will be like after the pandemic has long passed, I can only hope that the world will become a better place. I hope that we will not only treat ourselves and those around us better but also treat the world better and with more respect. One question that I had after reading your post was how can we, as Christians, present ourselves as calm and not shaken by this storm when we are spreading the Gospel to those who fear what is to come and question, like some of us, what will happen within the next month to a year?

  5. Olivia, you have a very mature grasp of the situation and articulate your concerns and hopes with uncommon wisdom, care and skill. Nurture your way with words “on the other side” and during this crisis of body, spirit and mind. Write as a way of explaining the world to yourself–for the edification of others.
    – As Christians, we do not confront death as the winner in the end, but in the present, what wonderful-terrible opportunities we have to be salt and light. If we look at the waves and the storm, we will sink like Peter.
    – Our individual ultimate mortality was never in question. But keeping our lamps burning is the mandate, shining light and being “leaven” in a fallen world is our assignment.
    – We must bring truth to power, where control of “tactical truth” is wielded as a means of maintaining the status quo–especially as you say, after everything is right side up again, should we reach that point. Personally, I don’t think we will reset to status quo ante, and your generation will need to be immensely adaptable and capable of stepping up for the good of people and planet and not just profit. We have an opportunity for recalibrating civilization in such a way that Kingdom come, but in a gentle and wise way in our pluralistic society.
    – A good place to find grounding, at least for me, is in other people (even if via Skype and Facetime) but also alone–or six feet apart from a friend–in the “cathedral made without hands” as Muir called the natural world.
    – I hope you are keeping a personal journal of your journey through these times. Your children and theirs (Lord willing) will benefit from your courage in the midst of fearful times. Do keep writing.

  6. Hannah, yes, this is an opportunity to see WE and not ME. Much of our society has come to value “rugged individualism” and personal comfort and success as the end-game. Even some Christians have acquiesced to the notion that God wants them, personally, to triumph over nature and neighbor and “win” the gold ring by owning and controlling and possessing as much as possible.
    – I hope that your hope of a pleasant and relatively “normal” life on the other side of this current outbreak will come to pass. But if we don’t let this teachable moment change us, any “sign” only points back to our failures from BC–before CoronaVirus.
    – Regarding your question, I think that we have the opportunity to show that our faith reaches beyond this life, but empowers it in ways that make our neighbors take notice. We have the opportunity to have our friends and neighbors say of us what the first century world said of Christians: “How the LOVE one another.” And this of course extends to “the least of these.”
    – I hope these hard times will not make your generation hard, but will soften their hearts to seek higher things, and then live there in mission to serve others with joy and satisfaction. Lead the way.

  7. – Hi Cora! There are a lot of people that have been thrown into drastically altered daily patterns–away from their jobs, home with their kids, not spending hours in bumper to bumper traffic or noisy streets and offices.
    – For many it will be terrifying to have so much free space and quiet. Even though the dread of financial disaster looms for us all, taking the opportunity to picnic; to find a “sit spot”; to take up bird watching or sketching of nature; to drive their commute time instead to a park or trailhead or riverbank–those kinds of things take a shift in focus from dog-eat-dog existence.
    – Those who know the value of time in nature can be the “field guides” to point others in this direction. Meeting a friend at a trailhead and walking together-apart is still admissible under current health restrictions. There is beauty within or reach that many will have time to see. It may take leading them there.

  8. Hello Mr. First. My name is Tigerlilly and I am a senior at Faith Christian School. Your words of a hopeful outcome brings me solace in the midst of universal panic and uncertainty. In your article, you mention that the world is having a “come-to-Jesus” moment. That the virus is, in some way, affecting more than just the health of the world.. but the world’s way of life. Do you believe that, in regards to the virus pandemic, the world truly needed this? That, although costly, this fast-paced, self-centered world that we live in could slowly change in light of this crisis? When thinking about what it will be like after COVID-19 has passed, I hope that life will be held more precious than before. All life will be seen as fragile, material, and simply mortal, and, thus, will be treated with love and kindness. I agree that the world cannot go on the way it has been going. Hopefully, a change this great will lead to a change even greater, full of love, beauty, peace, and appreciation of this finite world.

  9. – Greetings, Tigerlily. We face, as a global species, an almost certain “bad outcome” with regard to the decimation of our health and economies, and consequentially, our real and perceived sense of well-being. The sum total of human misery on the other side of this is unprecedented since there have never been so very many potential suffers at any one time on Planet Earth.
    – I guess my best hope would be, as you say, that many of us would be changed by a close brush with death, poverty and illness; by seeing our nations, communities and families suffer; and by realizing how dependent we truly are on the power of love more than the power of arms or hoarded things to endure and recover from such a slow emergency.
    – We can’t know if this pandemic is a consequence of God’s permissive will or directive will. If I had to choose, I’d tend to think the latter, in that Humankind has chosen long ago and often, at a crossroad, to go its own way and God has, reluctantly, allowed that to play out in the ways we have established by our irresponsible and careless stewardship of the natural and human world. And so OUR will is done, not His. Our will has created a world out of balance.
    – We have the opportunity, starting today, to push the RESET BUTTON. The effect will be different for each nation, each family, each individual. We should give that some thought NOW while we have so much time on our hands to contemplate our mortality and our opportunities for good while we live.

  10. I am following these students and your responses to them. All have been very good, and I like this morning’s very much. Thank you for using Fragments in this way.

  11. Hello Mr. First, my name is Andrew King and I am also a senior at Faith Christian. O really enjoyed reading your article and agree with pretty much everything. I do have a question though, you talk about how it would be best for one to be in the first wave admitted to the hospital, which I completly agree, but would that at the same time create more panic as people would then rush to the hospitals all at once trying to fit in that first wave? I agree that this whole pandemic is making countries more spiritual, but in my opinion I believe that the countries as a whole will be more like the Old Testament Israelites constantly going through the cycle of believing in God and then not when they feel he is not need because life seems to have gotten better.I think CoVid-19 virus does a lot for the world, it does give us a wake up call as to how beautiful life is and how we should cherish it, but at the same time I believe once this is over it will quickly be forgotten in the grand scheme of things. After ten years, it will probably not be something that we will say changed the world but rather put life on pause for a few weeks.

  12. Hello Mr. First, My name is Connor Wilson and I am a senior at Faith Christian School. First of all, I would like to thank you for taking part out of your day to read and respond to my fellow classmates. In reading your post, your last few sentences caught my attention. “Things fall apart. But life in this body is a vapor. And there is eternity built into us.” As I read these few sentences again and again, multiple thoughts filled my head. Could this virus be part of a spiritual journey? Could this time be seen as a chance to unify as a society by working together to contain COVID-19, even though we are all trapped in our houses? I believe that in order for our society to prevail, everyone has to work together against something as serious as this virus. I was also thinking that as we are all, in a sense, confined to our own dwelling places, a want for human interaction is bound to occur. However, with technology seeming to cross boundaries we did not even think were possible, we can now communicate through services like Skype, Zoom, and other face to face applications to fill that craving. I believe that through all this, the human race will become more unified than it is now. What are your thoughts on this?

  13. Good afternoon Mr. First, my name is Kateleigh Wampler. I am a senior at Faith Christian School and appreciate you sharing your thoughts and I absolutely love your concluding paragraph about focusing on the joys of the immutable earth. We need some beauty today while the virus is attacking the world around us. I do have a question: You say that “it invades [your] reverie and fragile focus.” How can one get back to that stage of deep thought, when the virus is attacking and distracting the minds of others? I feel like after the COVID-19 has passed, people with take more precaution and they will realize what small,simple things they can do to prevent another outbreak. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts during this dark time in our country. Be safe and try to stay healthy!!

  14. Hello, Mr. First! My name is Catherine, and I am a student in Mr. Mann’s Senior American Literature class tasked with reading and reflecting on your blog. You noted that “the world system is having… a come-to-Jesus moment.” So, in this trying and difficult time and in the midst of a multitude of uncertainty, how can we use this situation to our advantage (or truly to the Kingdom’s advantage) and lead people to Jesus while in isolation and quarantine? I whole-heartedly believe that the world is encountering a moment like the one you described, and it will be interesting to witness what the “other side” looks like. I imagine a world where a handshake with a stranger, conservations with friends in a crowded room, the taste of communion, and a regular Thursday afternoon are never taken for granted again–a world where its people have become their best because they endured the worst.

  15. Good afternoon Mr. First, this is Nick and I too am one of Mr. Mann’s students. You remarked that “The shadow of pandemic darkens all their lives, too. And they will never be the same on the other side.” I agree with this statement. I do believe that lives will be changed. However, much like Catherine above I am curious as to what we as Christians can do to get people to come to Jesus permanently, because as can be seen before in other world crises people come to Jesus for a time but only a few may stay permanently. So, to make that a little more clear my question is how do we as Christians create a change that is permanent? Because while all will change for a time I think only a permanent come to Jesus moment will create a change in the future correct?

  16. First things first, I want to congratulate you Mr. First for this very well written text. My name is Pedro Pereira and I’m originally from Brazil. I have been living here in Virginia for about 2 years now and I go to Faith Christian School, where you once came and talked to my senior class about the importance of man’s stewardship of nature.
    While reading your post, it made me wonder if this situation that we find ourselves has altered your willingness to keep writing, or changed your perspective on a specific subject, or even just changed the way you normally tackle your job of writing. You said that many people may not to change their day-to-day at-home lifestyle, but I have the impression that for a writer, especially for you that has a great concern with humanity and our relation with this damaged world we live in, living in a moment like this can be a great source of inspiration and reflection, since all the problems are now crystal clear in front of our eyes.
    I would also like to remark that I was having the same thought as you, that this moment is a come-to-Jesus moment. I believe God is in control of everything, and that He is powerful enough to bring goodness from the darkness. I think that many people that were lost and distant from Him before this COVID outbreak happened, will have a better chance to return to him. These Quarantine days and even months will be an opportunity for humanity to realize that we cannot allow ourselves to be selfish and indifferent to others or to our own resources, for instance. Food is going to be more and more valued, and we will hopefully learn to take better care of what has always been taken for granted for generations.
    Even though this crisis seems to deprive us from pursuing shallow and to be the complete opposite of one’s social imaginary, I see our current situation with different eyes. Shalom is human flourishing, and I not only think people are already flourishing from staying isolated at their houses, but I also believe this will be one of the greatest lessons people will have based on current times. This is a chance for us to be together in our families and to try new things that we may never have the time when having to work and go to school and afternoon sports or activities. The clock now slows down, and we can follow this rhythm. I can’t deny this whole situation is nerve racking and that mostly everyone would prefer to live in a different way. However, after the CoVid-19 is past, I have high hopes that there will be a change of hearts, and that humanity will have learned, at least a little bit, of how we can all be better at contributing to a society where we can flourish and a society that we all desire to live in.

  17. Hello Mr. First! My name is Megan Kagey and I am a senior in Mr. Mann’s Literature class. As the COVID-19 pandemic is unfortunately bound to get worse, how can we prepare to give society long-lasting stiches rather than “putting band-aids on several limbs of civilization” after dystopia? Or is this even possible with the world we live in? I am aware society will never be the same after this virus passes. A simple hand shake or meal together at Chick-fil-a will never be taken for granted again, but rather cherished. Something that has not happened in a long time is happening today. The 8 billion people in this world are focused around one thing. My hope is that this focus will shift to something hopeful and meaningful after COVID-19 has vanished.

  18. Good Evening, Mr. First. My name is Luke and I am in Mr. Mann’s Literature class. First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to write this enlightening post. Earlier this year, when you spoke to my class, you emphasized the importance of mankind being good stewards of the earth. I can see the coronavirus instituting a new set of ideals within our society. I hope that our society will place more emphasis on the family and have an appreciation for everyday commodities that we so often take for granted. I fear that when the pandemic passes, humanity will slide into old habits and once again take valuable resources for granted. These hard times have the ability to create a more passionate and grateful generation. My question is, how can we create a permanent change in ideals instead of sliding back into our own ways?

  19. Good evening, Mr. First! My name is Sara Oyler. I enjoyed reading your article. You have an interesting take on COVID-19. I’d like to begin by stating one difference between you and me – our locations. You live in Floyd, a small, seeminly behind-the-times city. I live in a fairly large, up-to-date city. Do you believe this difference in location will create a difference in opinions on the virus? You’ve stated that you believe the world is having a “come-to-Jesus” moment. I’d like to respectfully disagree. If this virus is the end, like everyone says it is, the world is moving further away from Christ. A “come-to-Jesus” moment is necessary but unlikely.
    According to Scrripture, 25% of the world will be destoyed by “by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts” (Revelation 6:8). COVID-19 could be the beginning of the end, or perhaps, when this is all over, everything will return to normal. Though the latter is the hope, it is an likely result. The world will probably never be the same after this pandemic, but the outcome remains uncertain until it has come and gone. Two things, however, are certain in the midst of these trying times: God’s love and the world’s pending end.
    Do you have any thoughts on COVID-19 and Revelation?

  20. Good morning, Andrew.
    I agree that all humans have short memories. We look in the mirror and see ourselves as we truly are, and turn away, and forget. But too, pandemics change not just people but nations–sometimes for the better. I’ll offer a resource for exploring that subject at the end of my comments.
    In this instance, the magnitude of impact of this pandemic, when able to look back on it historically, will not be a minor blip and then business as usual. The total deaths may not compare to the worst plagues the planet has seen. But coming at a time when our interlocked economic engine was at its most fragile, that way of buying and selling, of thinking and being so familiar to your generation–I do not think that will be recovered. We will far more than a pause for a few weeks, I am afraid.
    Regarding the first wave–that will not be a choice. The first wave will consist of those who are confirmed to have the virus early on, and are admitted and have access to the medications, staff time and machinery necessary to possibly survive through the course of the illness. Second way patients: there will be many impossibly difficult decisions made when few choices exist to treat everyone.
    Regarding pandemics and history, search: Frank Snowden
    “[How Pandemics Change History | The New Yorker]( __Frank M. Snowden__

  21. Good morning, Connor.
    You have a vision for good outcomes from a bad situation. You see the potential for human need to bind us together in closer ways than we have known during the “bowling alone” years. You see a future where a supreme challenge brings out the best in us as the dominant species on Earth, shows us our strengths and our common dependence on each other and on a healthy planet.
    Yes, for those who see these things and act on them, a spiritual journey of epic proportion lies ahead.
    But if we fail to learn from this experience and mange to prop back in place the harmful ways we have treated each other and knowingly made the world a less healthy place in the name of profit and power, we will have squandered a teachable moment.
    It will fall to you, your classmates, your generation to sustain this vision you have expressed. My generation has failed where yours might succeed. And if it doesn’t, fight the good fight, be the good and faithful servants.

  22. Good Morning, Catherine.
    As several of your classmates have observed, we have the opportunity to be changed for the better by the conditions now upon us–sustained perhaps for at least months.
    There will be stark contrasts between the way things are between family members, neighbors, and communities at the worst of the pandemic and the way things will be when society settles into a new “normal” at some time in the unknown future.
    I suggest that you (and your classmates and others in your stage in life) keep a journal (of “morning pages”) where you describe the details of life in the midst of this storm. Write from the heart. Be brutally honest about your concerns, perplexities and hopes. Observe carefully what you see going on in others you love and know. Paint the picture of this “before” so you can see the contrast, “after.” Your generation will be the keepers of this chronicle and the implementers of what is learned.
    I hope you will indeed see that, in some ways, and in some groups of people (likely communities and not entire nations) that we have been transformed by this wake-up call to be the People of the Way.

  23. Good Morning, Kateleigh.
    For very many, there will only be the terror of the moment and dread of the next day. This has been true, even before this pandemic descended on us. The vast majority of humanity live from meal to meal, without adequate food or water, health care or security. Billions live this way as their “normal.” They do not know what it feels like to have tranquil moments of deep, creative thought, but only thoughts for survival.
    We (a shrinking subsegment of mid-and-upperclass America) have been enormously blessed to not have those worries-of-billions. We have had the potential for these moments every single day (or at least most) of our lives free of fear and want.
    Hours of fear and dread will find some of us that have been strangers to such oppression. Some of us will make it, living, to the other side. And from that looking back, I hope we appreciate the riches in peaceful solitude, moments of beauty and wonder, the doing good for the common good, the deep thoughts that lead to revelation and discovery.
    It is a rare treasure we should not take for granted.

  24. Good morning, Nick.
    I see the focus of your question has to do with changes that do not change.
    The history of the people of Israel in the Old Testament is certainly one of crisis; call to conversion; confessed transformation away from their old idle worship etc; and “backsliding” down into the same pit, all over again.
    And yet within the history of societies ebbing and flowing around uniting principles and beliefs and apparent commitment (to God, to the national pledge, to the prevailing mores) there are individuals who are changed for good, forever. And only God can create such a change, I think.
    I think there is a difference in coming TO Jesus and coming TOWARD Him.
    And again, we can’t work that change. We can plant and water, but only God gives the increase.

  25. Good Morning, Pedro
    I appreciate your interest in the writing life. In some ways, I continue to follow my Prime Directive from the beginning of my writing life (at age 54): Write every day, write from the heart, write what you know.
    And write, because “how do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
    What is in my heart and what i have come to know–those change over time.
    Writing every day has gotten to be a challenge as increasingly, it is writing for the purpose of writing and not to be shared. Blog readership has become the swarm of illusive butterflies flittering around FaceBook, and so this opportunity to write TO recipients (even if a captive audience of assigned readers) is a welcome change.
    And I do find that writing from the heart during these difficult times can possibly help others find the expressions they struggle to articulate regarding their hopes and fears facing the future soon upon us.
    We are fortunate in this moment to have these means of seeing and talking and listening to each other, digitally. It is conceivable that this will not be as reliable in the future. So we need to remember books, handwritten letters and story-telling to carry our personal and collective narratives forward.
    We have the opportunity also to use this time to “re-skill” and regain the independence our grandparents possessed in making their own food, tools, music and clothes. We will see clearly that we’ve given up too much of that provision to a commodities system that might not be supportable on “the other side”–and should not be, to the extent that the global economy has been hurtful to people and planet. But I digress into writing from the heart and what I (think I) know.
    As I have suggested to others, please take up the “pen” and write every day, from the heart. Continue to come to know yourself and your place in the world–that are not duplicated across the other billions of us. What is YOUR story?

  26. Good Morning, Megan.
    I think you have an appropriately sober acceptance of the degree to which tomorrow will not be like today.
    Other civilizations have gone through plagues and outbreaks where perhaps larger numbers die than will succumb to COVID-10, recently projected at about 1.1 million–a small percentage of the much larger number who will give sick. But given the sheer numbers of us and the interconnected dependencies between producers and consumers around the world, I expect this will be unprecedented in the scope of long-future dysfunction we can expect but not fully imagine.
    And yet, we are not helpless. We can re-tool and re-skill, but perhaps for a less gadget-and-rare-earths dependent way of getting things done. I suggest researching “appropriate technology” and the “triple bottom line economy” as possible avenues to a more just and sustainable world–at some point, on the other side.
    And so what would your role be in this new world? Where is your passion? What are your native skills or talents that might contribute to the needs of the world you will live in as an adult? It might not be the way you have always thought your career and life would go.
    But these are days for re-imagining tomorrow when we might have the opportunity to recalibrate civilization in ways not possible until sent to our knees (possible double entendre) by a virus, that, without malice or forethought, is doing what it’s program tells it: to make more.

  27. Good Morning, Luke.
    I am heartened that so many of your classmates have voiced the hope that a new level and focus of stewardship and Creation Care might arise on the other side of the COVID pandemic. At the same time, they share the concern that any apparent lessons learned will not result in the radical (as in cut to the root) changes necessary to turn back from previous harmful ways of treating each other and the part of Nature that has been self-sustaining and also sustaining humanity. (i.e. the environment)
    In my view of things, looking back over my adult life (that I have beginning in April 1970 and the first Earth Day when I was just starting grad school) we have allowed greed, arrogance and oppression to usurp power for the “good” of corporations, politicians of all stripes, and nations at the expense of working-order oceans, groundwater, soils, forests, cities and societies.
    We live in a broken world at the end of a slowly-corroding period of carbon-powered human existence, a bubble, a house of cards that we knew would come down, and that it would only take a breath of wind, a pin to pop the bubble.
    We now know how the bubble popped.
    Nick also expressed his concern about permanent versus only temporary change. I hope that this writing prompt from my morning pages (totally unintended for this purpose, but thankful it found a use) will be salt and light for your class conversations that carry this forward into goals, plans and actions.

  28. Good Morning, Sara.
    With regard to the difference between the **impact of **the pandemic (and not in **opinions about,** per your question) between Floyd and Roanoke: the virus will not respect up-to-date-ness, and will be happy for the higher-density, less independent-functioning city population.
    But in the end, health impact on the two communities will likely relate more to built-in social distance in two populations where 15k people live on 383 square miles of Floyd County vs a similar number living in 10 square miles of Roanoke surburbia. (I made that latter number up, but the point stands.)
    You bring up a point here (though maybe not your intention) that population density, sanitation and proximity to animals (wild and those for food like at the Wuhan market where COVID seems to have been first transmitted) are all public health considerations for future urban and city planning. But that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation.
    “Come to Jesus moment” is not a term arising from the pulpit but from common vernacular–meaning a moment of sudden and sobering accountability. The shock of the pandemic and dystopia that might follow is, I’m afraid, not likely to result in waves of religious conversion. Most will shake their fist at God (that they don’t believe in) for letting bad things happen to good people. The old “problem of pain” seeming sand in the gears of “the Christian God.” Again, another conversation.
    Regarding Revelations, I think one can be assured that God and Good win in the end. But rather than keeping a scorecard of perceived matches between one current event and one seeming match for a book of the Bible, it seems to me that the mandate for each of us is to be found waiting, but prepared; watching, but doing the work of a good and faithful servant, as several of Jesus’ parables admonish.
    As I said to one of your classmates earlier, many people have known that we have fouled our nest almost to–or beyond–the point of recovery, and we might see–now, or in a future generation–the house coming down around our ears. And this will not take God by surprise.

  29. I just read all your thoughtful replies to the student writers. As always, the thought and heart you put in to your words is remarkable. Thank you for taking on your teaching role again, with such a different subject and circumstances.

  30. So very pleased that you were willing and able to consider the feedback from my students and to offer them thoughtful and sometimes provocative responses! Perhaps we can host a follow-up discussion soon.

  31. Thank you so much for replying to all our comments, Mr. First! We truly appreciate the time you took to evaluate our feedback and answer our questions. God bless!

  32. Mr. First, thank you for taking the time to respond to each of our comments! I truly appreciate the time you took to not only respond but to also write such an insightful post.

  33. Mr. First, hello from Sydney, one of the students with whom you met specifically to offer your wisdom and perspective for thesis projects when you visited my school. First I would like to say that I found your thoughts a refreshing break from the unpleasant news that has been streaming via the media- also in that it was not merely informative but contemplative and hopefully speculative for post-pandemic life. I particularly enjoyed your commentary on us humans being transient beings, mere vapors, yet programmed for eternity, in the context of a rapidly changing world.
    In regards to your thoughts about the “other side,” the “AD,” what do you think about COVID-19 as a wake up call for humanity? Is this a good thing, even if it is fear-motivated and, as you said, the results of this warning “break” from ordinary life may not last once the virus has run its course and the world, businesses, etc., recommence normal life? I believe this time can be extremely valuable to humanity as a whole; it could let us stop and turn around, or at least catch our breath and consider our lives, relationships, and purposes with death knocking louder at our doors. This wake-up-call, as you named it, is very clear and provides a unique opportunity to flee back to God and in even the slightest different direction from our destructive, selfish ways. So I also wonder, in light of your previous thoughts about the necessity of nature and beauty to a Christian, how do you propose we revel in that, and therefore God, whilst we are quarantined? In other words how do we reflect on nature and let it change our sympathies, and really use this disruption in today’s fast-paced, distracted world to our and even God’s Kingdom’s advantage, if we are trapped indoors, especially if we do not live in a rural area?