“I stand with Livy, who at the final hardening of Rome’s republican arteries, wrote that the study of his land’s history was the study of the rise and fall of moral strength, with duty and severity giving way to ambition, avarice, and license, till his fellow Romans ‘sank lower and lower, and finally began the downward plunge which has brought us to the present time, when we can endure neither our vices nor their cure'” (1).
In his book Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, Anthony Esolen shows us a nation at a crossroads. He shows us a better way, a way up. He wrote before the pandemic. Before the time when we may have begun to consider what our lives have been, what we are making them now, and what we hope they will be when the coronavirus lockdown finally ends.
Many of us are just waiting for normalcy to return. If that’s what we do, we are missing an opportunity.
Perhaps this moment is just the time to hear Esolen’s message to pursue truth and beauty. The call to see the truly important and to disregard the superficial.
We are learning a great deal as individuals and as a people through this crisis. Some of us are learning how to be with family 24/7.
Remember? For better or for worse? For some, it’s better.
People are spending time with their children. If you weren’t already homeschooling, you have a new appreciation for those who’ve done so for years. And if you were busy and distracted with your job before, you’re now getting a better picture of who these young ones are becoming, who they’ve already become when you weren’t looking quite as closely.
Perhaps our move toward producing our own food has come partly in a panic that we’ll suffer a food shortage. But perhaps it’s also to have something productive to do.
Apparently, we can only watch so many things on a streaming service. We realize that we want something we can point to for how we’re spending our time.
Americans are also baking bread. My husband and I had to order flour online because our local stores are cleaned out and one stocker told him, “There isn’t any in the pipeline.” That means it won’t be on store shelves any time soon.
A loaf of fresh bread is something to savor. (But I’m still far from mastery.)
With planting and baking, children see that food isn’t something that originates in a plastic bag from a store or on a plate a server puts in front of them.
Food takes time and patience. Good food does, anyway. Food with fewer chemicals, food with more flavor, food infused with our own time and labor.
That’s truth. That’s beauty. That’s better.
Sadly, many of us our drowning our inactivity with alcohol. That’s worse. But pain and the struggle of feeling trapped in isolation are real for many.
So here we stand at the crossroads.
Esolen reminds us of Keats’s words to “‘load every rift with ore’ . . . . What Keats did with poems, we ought to do with our minds, claiming for our own the gold that poets give us” (30).
And to the gold of poets, I would add the silver of gardening, baking, crafting, storytelling, and encouraging–the filling of these days with truth, beauty, and goodness.
With admiration for those among us who care for the sick and stock store shelves with available foods and other necessities.
And with mercy and grace for those among us who struggle with isolation.
These days will end. The heroes among us will remember a blur of work, more challenging than they’ve seen before.
Still others, most of us I hope, will have days of creativity and craft to look back on. Days of discovering new ways to do things. Days perhaps, of passing old ways on to young ones who otherwise may not have considered what goes into food growth and production and other kinds of crafting.
Just as with any time of life, this time provides us with choices. To sit, to create, to encourage one another. Now is a good time for a good message–like the one Esolen provides.
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. (From Isaiah 61, MSG)