Reflections of an Evolving Elder: Road to Hell is Paved with Arrogance

The road to hell is not so much paved with good intentions as with arrogance, avarice and avoidance.

Shaun A. Pennington
Shaun A. Pennington (Source file photo)

Before Virus Outbreak, a Cascade of Warnings Went Unheeded

The intro to the story, in case you don’t have access to the New York Times, reads: “Government exercises, including one last year, made clear that the U.S. was not ready for a pandemic like the coronavirus. But little was done.”

When you read the article, to say that “little was done” is something of an understatement. Worse than nothing was done. The program within the U.S. government designed to address pandemics was gutted, in fact.

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First, let’s talk about arrogance. I remember standing in front of my television on Sept. 11, 2001, thinking, “You arrogant bastards. How long did you think it would take until this happened to us?” As in U.S.

Terrorism is a fact of life for much of the world. And so are deadly viruses. Ebola has ravaged and killed tens of thousands of people in West Africa. The 2014-16 outbreak alone killed 11,310.

But they weren’t  U.S.

My interest in that continent has been lifelong, so I have watched as genocide took place in Rwanda, as we watched. I have wept as Ebola killed half the people it infected going back to 1994, as we watched. Tsk, tsk … and then on to whatever our current diversion was. The Kardashians maybe?

I always thought, “If Ebola were killing white people in the U.S., we’d have a vaccine for it.”

But genocides and terrorists and deadly viruses can’t touch us. Until they do.

Add to the arrogance the mercenary considerations, and you will find there’s no quick money in developing vaccines for viruses that can and do mutate at will. And, well, since we don’t have anything like that because all those things happen somewhere else to people who don’t look like us, why would we risk profits to our shareholders for something that doesn’t feel threatening to U.S.?

Very close to home we have a perfect example. Villa owners are still taking reservations and allowing guests – at least one who has been exposed to the virus – to come in on their private jets, take cabs, rent cars and hire Virgin Islanders to wait on them. It’s all about the money.

And with all the modern-day distractions at our fingertips, we can completely avoid dealing with something that might happen, but not in the next three weeks, so why worry. Why plan? Why spend money for something that’s not in the least bit sexy, when we could be buying back stocks to load our profits or at least appear to increase them even more. And then it does happen to U.S. and we find ourselves on the road to Hell and without a map.

The road out of Hell, on the other hand, is paved with compassion, caring and common sense. And all you have to do is turn around and retrace your ill-advised steps to make your way out.

Start with a good, sound reality check. Not to make yourself feel guilty or bad. Just to get a perspective.

While we are still reeling from the idea that we cannot eat out or go to parties for a while, the people who are losing their loved ones and cannot hold funerals for them are undoubtedly reeling with unimaginable grief. Children of the oppressed are out of school and luck when it comes to ever catching up since they don’t have a hot meal much less a computer and internet connection with which to “attend” classes. I am talking about here in the Virgin Islands, by the way.

Notably absent from mainstream media reports are stories about the massive migration of people all over the world who are already homeless and country-less thanks to the effects of climate change. Crammed into refugee camps, how long before they are overwhelmed by the virus? And what about our own homeless population? How do you home shelter when you don’t have a home or a shelter? Where do you wash your hands?

In “Conversations With God,” author Neale Donald Walsch says, regarding generosity, “Go with your first instinct.” Like when you see a homeless person, he says, and your first thought is to give her $10 … then you think, well, maybe that’s too much. I’ll give her $5. Well, she’ll just buy drugs with it. I’ll give her $1. Then you get down to, why should I give her anything, she’s just a drug addict who doesn’t want to work.

Give her the $10 for God’s sake. That first instinct is your Godself.

So, there’s the compassion and caring opportunities. Now for the common sense.

“The most important lesson is that the virus can be contained if people are responsible and adhere to certain simple principles,” said Dr. Christopher Willis, a physician in Singapore. “Stay calm. For most people it’s like the common cold.”

In his last three press conferences Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has very nearly begged convenience store owners to stop people from congregating in front of their establishments. It is safe to assume that since he keeps asking, at least some proprietors have not done so – or the idiots yucking it up out front have defied the requests.

And then there are the Virgin Islanders who I have heard firsthand say, “We don’t have it.”

I have no idea what the hell they mean by that. They don’t have it? Our islands don’t have it? Huh?

We do have it. Right now we are holding our own at 17 cases – while we await test results on 30 more – but only a fool would think that will continue.

In all my decades of living here I have observed something: We are always either two weeks behind, or two weeks ahead of the mainland.

We are merely a microcosm of the rest of the country, if not the world. We are not exempt. But we are a loving, close-knit community that has always stepped up to the plate to help each other.

God, how I hope this never-before-seen crisis will not be the exception.

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