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Monitor Daily Podcast

May 22, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

The joke booth at the end of the driveway

Have you heard the one about people posting jokes in public to try to cheer everybody up during these difficult times?

Yes, it’s true. We’re not talking about aspiring comedy writers hoping to catch the eye of a late-night talk show host, however. This is about dad jokes – and bad jokes. Real groaners. These jokes are so tired they have to nap in the afternoon.

Here’s an example: “What does a rain cloud wear under its coat? Thunderwear!”

That’s from Callaghan McLaughlin. He’s a 6-year-old from British Columbia who set up a joke booth at the end of his driveway. His repertoire is 16 jokes he’s memorized from a book his mom gave him last fall, “Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids.”

He’s been entertaining the people who walk by for some five weeks now. It turns out that when the world looks dark a giggling kid telling you what kind of bug is bad at football is pretty entertaining.

The punch line there is “fumblebee,” by the way.

Callaghan holds regular sessions in his booth, morning and afternoon. It helps fill the time left open by the coronavirus-driven closure of school. He’s become kind of a big deal on the internet, too, thanks to appearances on local news and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. His mom says he’s a natural.

“He can talk the hind legs off a donkey,” she told The Washington Post

With unemployment skyrocketing and the pandemic still lurking and the future very much unknown, laughter may not actually be the best medicine, but it still feels pretty good.

“There’s a lot of stress in the world ... and I kind of want to get some smiles on people’s faces,” Callaghan told the CBC

Sometimes bad jokes work too, particularly when delivered by cute kids. We’ll leave you with one of the staples of Callaghan’s oeuvre:

“What is black, white, and red?”

“A penguin that’s embarrassed!”

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Past crises brought change. What will this pandemic bring?

The coronavirus pandemic is just the latest in a long line of global crises. And as those earlier events have shown, there is hope for a better world tomorrow – and it starts with each individual.

Peter

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Crises have been the catalyst for major shifts, personal and structural. Public health systems were established after the 1918 flu pandemic. Widespread social welfare policies were created after World War II. Now that many are undergoing the biggest crisis of their lifetimes – a pandemic with unknown health and economic consequences – they are finding their limits tested.

Heads of state like French President Emmanuel Macron have likened the current situation to previous war eras. Those who lived through the uncertainty of World War II feel it intimately.

Odile Diconne was a child in the occupied zone of France during the war. She says that the era was one of constant scarcity. “We had ration stamps to buy food, but it was very limited.”

Like many of those who have lived through wars, depressions, or other public health threats, the crises shaped values systems that they rely on during this pandemic, says Raymond Charlès, who also lived through World War II as a child. He says he believes the forced shutdowns could help today’s generation learn to live with less.

“During the war, before buying something we’d ask ourselves, ‘Do I really need this?’ I think this will be a good experience for this generation.”

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1. Past crises brought change. What will this pandemic bring?

Jerry Apps was pulling his sled home from his one-room country school in rural Wisconsin on a January afternoon in 1947 when he started to feel ill. Within days his family knew it was polio, the worst public health threat in American communities of the postwar era.

While his father helped him largely regain use of his legs, there was no more basketball, baseball, track, or helping his folks on the farm.

He grappled with worthlessness throughout his childhood, he says. But at the urging of a teacher, he joined a typewriting class. He was the only boy and says he excelled because his fingers were strong from milking cows. Another teacher, recognizing his suffering on the sidelines of the sports he loved, urged him to broadcast the games instead. He believes without polio he wouldn’t have gotten to college – or had a career as a historian and author.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Crises have been the catalyst for major shifts, personal and structural. Public health systems were established after the 1918 flu pandemic. Widespread social welfare policies were created after World War II. Now that many in the world are undergoing the biggest crisis of their lifetimes – a pandemic with unknown health and economic consequences – their limits are being tested like Mr. Apps’s once were.

“For a lot of people it’s a very tough stretch right now, and they need to find a little optimism,” Mr. Apps says. “When I had polio, I was the most miserable, ornery, unhappy-feeling kid you could ever imagine. And my dad, he never said, ‘Get over it.’ He just said, ‘Tomorrow’s going to be a better day. Next year is going to be a better year. Let’s get on with it.’”

“I’ve had my bad days, but boy, I’ve had a wonderfully good life, my goodness.”

Ideas of national sacrifice

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare some of society’s urgent weaknesses, from inequality to lax health and labor protections to environmental degradation, and many are hoping it forces change around the world when it’s done.

It’s far too soon to know how deep or lasting any shifts will be. Historians say transformations are often oversimplified and romanticized in collective memory. But many individuals are recalibrating goals, values, and their own understanding of freedom.

That has been shepherded by heads of state, who have likened the current situation to previous war eras. Politicians around the globe have asked their citizens to shelter at home, with a loss of freedom over movement and labor – something unthinkable just two months ago. And in doing so, they have invoked ideas of national sacrifice.

French President Emmanuel Macron told the country that it was “at war” with the coronavirus ahead of France’s first lockdown period on March 17. And in an April 13 address, he said that even though it was difficult to stay confined and deal with shortages while being on the “front lines” of the virus, the country had “mobilized” and a “production schedule, just like in times of war, [had] been put in place.”

Queen Elizabeth, in an address to the British people in April, invoked the spirit of World War II when she told the nation, “We will meet again,” a reference to a British song from the war. “Better days will return.”

Olivier Wieviorka, a French historian who specializes in the study of World War II, says there are parallels between then and now, in shortages, restrictions, and sacrifice. And those who lived through the uncertainty of the era feel it intimately.

Odile Diconne was a child in Remigny in the Burgundy region in the occupied zone of France during World War II. She says that, with her father locked up as a prisoner of war, the era was one of constant scarcity. “We had ration stamps to buy food, but it was very limited. We would try to grow what was lacking in our garden, but it was a difficult period.”

Damian Dovarganes/AP
Cartons of eggs are for sale at a Trader Joe's grocery store in Los Angeles on May 14, 2020. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, egg demand has increased. A sign reads: "A great way to show kindness to our neighbors is to limit yourself to 2 units of any item. We are all in this together."

Total darkness obscured the streets of her neighborhood every evening, as families shuttered themselves inside for the German army-imposed curfew. Ms. Diconne and her family would black out their windows with paper and escape to the basement as shelling pounded down nearby. And yet, in some ways she finds today’s lockdowns more psychologically challenging.

“It’s harder now to not be able to go out, speak to the neighbors,” says Ms. Diconne. “During the war, schools and churches remained open. We were relatively free.”

Like many of those who have lived through wars, depressions, or other public health threats, the crises shaped values systems that they rely on during this pandemic, says Raymond Charlès, who was born in 1933 in Brittany, France, and also lived through World War II as a child. He says he believes the forced shutdowns could help today’s generation learn to live with less.

“During the war, before buying something we’d ask ourselves, ‘Do I really need this?’ I think this will be a good experience for this generation, who always have everything they want right away.”

“Things are going to change,” says Mr. Wieviorka, the historian, “but it won’t be a big bang or a major change from one day to the next.”

What comes out of this?

The current lockdown has created a sense of solidarity among communities that is reminiscent of wartime when neighbors would help tend each other’s farms or share food, says Richard Berrong, who has produced three documentaries on World War II and is a French professor at Kent State University in Ohio. “Solidarity was a really important element of the occupation,” he says.

Within the first month of lockdown in the United Kingdom, more than 750,000 volunteers had signed up to community groups to take care of Britain’s more vulnerable people. In Canada, a group of “caremongers” has sprung out to help those in need.

But there are limits to the parallels, argues Mark Humphries, a historian at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario who wrote “The Last Plague: Spanish Influenza and the Politics of Public Health in Canada.”

“It’s very easy for politicians to say, ‘We’re in a war, this is about national sacrifice,’ and then use that to try and allude to previous conflicts and make the argument that we need to do what people did in the past. ... But these things get very muddy and murky very quickly.” In Canada, for example, in both world wars, conscription became a divisive issue that roiled the nation.

He says that during World War I there was a longing for the war to be “a cleansing fire which would burn away all the old problems.” That idealism faded quickly as political divisions resurfaced. He says that a lot of the goodwill today around sacrifice could erode as people weigh the financial and social costs of shutdowns.

“I think that we have to be very careful in assuming that what comes out of this is a unifying thing,” he says.

Yet Mr. Apps says that the individual growth that comes at any period of change should be used to refocus thinking on those things in society that need to change, like a lack of safety nets for many workers.

“I firmly believe that this is that rare opportunity once again to think carefully about where we want to be and not spend all of our time thinking about how we can be exactly like we were,” he says. “That’s not the right question. This is our opportunity to be something better than we were.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

A deeper look

In the staycation era, the art of deliberate escape

Many are making the most of their own backyards as the virus cancels vacations. Our writer finds that day trips to nearby Walden Pond allow for a slower pace and reflection – in the spirit of America’s first social distancer.   

Peter
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A statue of Henry David Thoreau, an essayist and naturalist, stands near a replica of his cabin at Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, Massachusetts. The site is open during the coronavirus crisis, but pathways are one-way to encourage social distancing.

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“A man must generally get away some hundreds or thousands of miles from home before he can be said to begin his travels,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. “Why not begin his travels at home?”

I took a day trip – two of them, actually. Two visits to Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, an hour from our quarantined home. Where better, I thought, to explore the idea of isolation. It’s what Thoreau did (albeit for nearly 800 days, not 80). 

In two days at Walden, here is some of what I found: an empty parking lot, and then one so full it was blocked. Kayakers, picnickers, swimmers in both wet suits and bikinis. Walkers in masks. Fishermen in waders. And a woman who emerged from the water to tell me of having visited Walden more than 500 times. 

On that first visit in April you could feel Thoreau there. You could not help thinking of his circumstances 175 years ago when he decamped to this place, and how strangely those circumstances echo our own. You could picture Thoreau in his Home Depot shed, grappling with isolation, being sheltered on a circumscribed parcel of earth.

And feeling like he had no idea what was coming next.

Like us.

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2. In the staycation era, the art of deliberate escape

Thoreau, I think, might have understood our collective predicament. Or so it seems on this dank April day in a spring that meteorologists are calling New England’s coldest ever. I am in Concord, Massachusetts, standing in front of a replica of the hut where Henry David Thoreau undertook his version of self-isolation at Walden Pond. I peer at it like I expect it to speak.

Have you seen it? It really is small. Ten feet by 15 feet – the size of a lawnmower shed you could buy at a hardware store. One room, one door, two windows, a fireplace. (In building a dwelling, Thoreau would later write in “Walden,” “Consider first how slight a shelter is absolutely necessary.”) Inside, behind the locked entry but visible through the window: a cot, a three-legged desk, two wooden chairs, and on this day the anachronism of a day-glo sandwich board urging people not to forget the visitor center 100 yards away.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

The hut, like the visitor center, is beside the parking lot at what is now Walden Pond State Reservation. The park is officially “closed to aid in the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.” Yet here and there a few people wander in the chill – having come for the trails (still accessible, though now routed in one-way loops), or maybe just to escape the house. Occasionally they glance at the tiny hut, which, even though a replica, somehow looks genuine – antique and careworn and moss-eaten. You can imagine Thoreau huddled inside it, sheltering in place with no plumbing but the pond, no heat but burning wood, no light but candles. Not to mention zero Wi-Fi and definitely too few bars for FaceTime.

Thoreau moved into his hut on July 4, 1845. He lived there alone for two years, two months, and two days. Nine years later he published “Walden,” describing what he’d done. And nearly two centuries on, people come here to see where he’d done it.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Monitor writer Michael Hopkins peers through the window of a replica of Thoreau’s cabin, which isn’t much bigger than a garden shed.

As it happens, I wasn’t supposed to be here. Back in January, in times B.C. (before coronavirus) this was planned as a different kind of travel story: the Monitor’s Memorial Day kickoff of summer vacation season. The plan was to fly to Washington, D.C., buy bike-share passes, and crisscross the National Mall to document the scenes at the monuments – the great gatherings of every kind of human that belittle our differences and exalt our community. Fractious times? Sure. But not in these places. Not while reading Abraham Lincoln’s carved words opposite his enormous hand on his enormous knee. Not while watching Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emerge indomitable from a stone.

But of course things changed, and there would be no flights or hotels or runabout bicycles handed from one unsanitized tourist to another. So what would there be – for this story, for this summer, for all of us?

Day trips, it turns out. Or so say the zeitgeist pollsters and travel forecasters. We’re all going to take short trips – in our cars, near our homes, with our lunches packed and our face coverings in our pockets. And I figured: I should go on one, too.

So I took a day trip – two of them, actually. Two visits to Walden Pond, in Concord, an hour from our quarantined home. Where better, I thought, to explore the idea of isolation. It’s what Thoreau did (albeit for nearly 800 days, not 80). Thoreau was the original social distancer, though his isolation, unlike ours, was not forced.

In two days at Walden, here is some of what I found: winter, and then summer, though just 12 days apart. An empty parking lot, and then one so full it was blocked. Kayakers, picnickers, swimmers in both wet suits and bikinis. Walkers in masks. Fishermen in waders. And a woman who emerged from the water to tell me of having visited Walden more than 500 times. 

Between those Walden visits I read “Walden” itself. (Reread it, if you count high school, which I shouldn’t.) And tangentially I tumbled down the rabbit hole of never-ending debate over Thoreau’s cultural reputation and literary standing. (Was Thoreau a hypocrite? Was Thoreau a fraud? Was Thoreau, in the characterization offered by a 2015 New Yorker headline, “Pond Scum”?)

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Two men in a canoe head out to fish on the 65-acre lake. You can swim, boat, fish, and hike at Walden. In winter, people cross-country ski and ice skate.

So my day trips bloomed into something more, which is maybe what we should wish from our day trips if they’re all we have. It’s what Thoreau would have wanted.

On that first visit in April you could feel Thoreau there. You could not help thinking of his circumstances 175 years ago when he decamped to this place, and how strangely those circumstances echo our own. You could picture Thoreau in his Home Depot shed, grappling with isolation, being sheltered on a circumscribed parcel of earth.

And feeling like he had no idea what was coming next.

Like us. 

“Travel recovery”

“A man must generally get away some hundreds or thousands of miles from home before he can be said to begin his travels,” wrote Thoreau. “Why not begin his travels at home? Would he have to go far or look very closely to discover novelties?”

Why not, indeed? But before we return to Walden (the pond) or even “Walden” (the book), what about the pandemic-prompted travel question that led to this adventure in the first place – will Americans even go on vacation this summer?

Not as intended, they won’t. Already, 66% of Americans have canceled their summer vacation plans, leaving unclear the matter of whether they’ll substitute different ones, according to MMGY Global, a travel industry marketing firm. MMGY identifies three factors affecting consumer willingness to travel: perception of safety, economic factors, and isolation orders. 

“As many of us continue to lead lives sheltered in place, the simplest of travel activities seem fantastical,” says Katie Briscoe, MMGY’s president. “When will travelers feel safe to step on a plane? When will hotels welcome guests again?”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Three boys build a sandcastle on the beach at Walden Pond.

Not for a while, according to a Harris poll. A majority of Americans say they’ll wait at least seven months before they’ll fly on a plane, and four months before they’ll stay in a hotel, which for most of the country essentially wipes out overnight travel for the entire summer. Some 58% of travelers say that restaurants will be off their itineraries until July or later. As for cruises, 57% say they won’t get on a ship for “a year or longer,” and 23% say they’ll “never” take another cruise again. 

“People just feel safer controlling their own experience,” says Ms. Briscoe. “Whether that be in their car, around friends and family, or just back in trusted and familiar places, this represents the beginning of travel recovery.”

There are some exceptions to the general travel collapse that illustrate what the analysts describe. At the same time that two-thirds of people have scuttled their vacation plans and canceled the flights and hotel rooms that go with them, campground operators are being swamped with reservations. Warren Meyer, owner of Recreation Resource Management, runs 150 campgrounds and day-use recreation sites on public parks and land across the United States. “Those of us two or three hours away [from travelers’ homes] are going to be mobbed this summer,” he predicts. Reservations at RRM-run sites are running 20% ahead of their 2019 rates. “We’re going to be full everywhere, all the time.”

“People are not scared of camping,” he says. You travel in your own car; you sleep in your own shelter; you keep your distance while cooking your own dinner in the ventilated outdoors. Plus, in times of uncertainty, it becomes increasingly attractive, he says, to pay $25 to camp under the red rocks in Sedona, Arizona, instead of $400 to stay in a lodge at Yellowstone.

Mr. Meyer has seen this kind of dynamic before. During the Great Recession, campsite occupancy never fell. The cheap travel option thrived. Similarly, after 9/11, in the summer of 2002 when people still didn’t want to fly, “we had a record camping year,” he notes.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A family wearing face masks enjoys the pond on a sunny spring day.

Still, RRM has to weather the lockdown if it’s going to flourish in the summer. Before some states began to ease restrictions in May, 143 of the company’s 150 facilities were shuttered. And RRM, like every business, has a breaking point – Mr. Meyer says the company will be in big trouble if it doesn’t open by Memorial Day.

Of course, only 14% of Americans camp. Whereas almost everyone, say the analysts, will day trip.

But where to? To do what? No one knows how long many attractions, such as museums and theme parks, will remain closed or limited. A currently invaluable benefit of day trips is “flexibility,” William Schaffner, a health policy expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, told AFAR Magazine. “Social distancing in a variety of forms is going to be with us for a long time.”

It’s easy enough to maintain distance, though, if you drive Chicago’s suburbs with a map of Frank Lloyd Wright houses in your lap, or exit Miami for a day of snorkeling in nearby Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys.

In sum: Think “hyperlocal.” That’s the buzzword of the moment among travel industry insiders. We’ll be staying near, not going far. Maybe we’ll be discovering about our own backyards what Dorothy went to Oz and back to figure out. Except no balloons – we’ll be driving. According to MMGY Chief Executive Officer Clayton Reid, “2020 could well become the year of the car” – a likelihood abetted by gas prices that are now lower in 20 states than at any time in U.S. history (inflation adjusted).

The great American day trip is on.

Solitude as companion

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” 

So begins perhaps the most iconic line among Thoreau’s many. But the reality of it wasn’t that simple – nor anywhere near that iconic.

The Thoreau who went to Walden was far from the prophet he’s often made out to be. He was mostly just a young man at loose ends – 27 years old, no attachments, few prospects, little idea of his path. He had gone to New York chasing a writer’s life and returned to Concord homesick and unsuccessful. He had started a school with his brother, John, only to lose both the school and, far worse, his brother, when John died of complications from cutting his finger. In the spring of 1845 Thoreau could have been the sad second cousin in a Jane Austen novel. He was hungry for something. His prospects of finding it were slim. If he decided to go live in the woods, there was no one to stop him.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Visitors have left cairns by Thoreau’s original cabin site in the Walden woods.

None of which makes his “experiment” in deliberate living less brave or ambitious. When you go to Walden, that’s part of what you sense. You walk the rolling, rocky ground around the pond and climb the small slope to where the tiny cabin was, and you can’t help but think of the New England winter, and the cold, and the snow. You think of the fire he burned incessantly, and the wood he chopped to feed it. You think of the food he laid up and the vermin that ate it. You think of how hard it must have been, for all his claims about his leisure.

It’s easy to get “Walden” wrong. I know I did, before reading it again. Somewhere along the line we stopped letting the experience breathe and turned it into a few quotes handed down on tablets.

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”

You can see them on posters on Google, just two clicks away. They sound like a man who brooks no dissent, is unwavering, who never entertains doubt. But Thoreau was full of doubt, and he let his mind waver – a lot. 

He both hated work and exalted it, was both an introvert and an extrovert. On the one hand, he said, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” On the other, he decreed, “I think that I love society as much as most, and am ready enough to fasten myself like a bloodsucker for the time to any full-blooded man that comes in my way. I am naturally no hermit.” Every idea he encountered, he tried on, desperate to feel each one as tangibly as a stone in a hand.

We too often mistake “Walden” as a book about finding: finding the path, finding the truth, finding the way. But it’s not. It’s a book about searching.

To live deliberately

It is on my second trip to Walden, on a May day suddenly gleaming and warm, that I meet Christina Davis. She comes out of the pond, after wading in Thoreau’s cove.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
“Now that’s a sentence. It’s a poem, that sentence. It’s perfect,” says Christina Davis, a museum curator who has visited Walden Pond some 500 times, on the line posted at the site of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin explaining why he moved to the woods.

“Aren’t you cold?” someone asks her. She isn’t. You get used to it, she says. She swims here every year on May 1. She’s been coming since 1996 and now has been here more than 500 times.

We sit down to talk. What kind of person visits a site 500 times? Ms. Davis doesn’t mind trying to explain – emphasis on “try,” she says, since she’s not fully sure herself. She is a poet, author, and curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University’s Lamont Library. But in 1996, she’d just finished three years of graduate study at Oxford University and discovered she needed to come home to America. “Turned out I was more American than I’d thought,” she says. “I needed to reacquaint myself.” She was living in New York then, and at loose ends. One day she ventured north by train to Boston and then Concord, and then by foot two miles from the station to the pond. A pilgrimage. She’s never stopped making them. “You have your pilgrimages, don’t you?” she says. 

Over the years she’s done most of the things you can do at Walden. She’s sat on rocks and written poems with her ankles in the water. She’s ice skated. She’s made friends. “All while you feel a personal relationship with this person called Henry.”

She shyly quotes something she has written: “It is with this I have formed a family.”

As shadows grow, we walk on pine needles up the path to the original site of Thoreau’s hut. Ms. Davis stops, points at the brown wooden sign. “Now that’s a sentence,” she says. “It’s a poem, that sentence. It’s perfect.”

Her awe causes me to look again – better yet, causes me to forget the quote books and commencement speeches that have dulled the line to me. Here it is, Thoreau in full: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

After Ms. Davis leaves, I linger for a moment on the ground where the hut had been, marked now by granite posts and chains around the periphery. The afternoon is ending, and no one is here. There are only the sounds of shouts far across the water and now and then the echoed thunk of an oar on a boat hull.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Writer Michael Hopkins surveys the surroundings at the original site of Henry David Thoreau’s one-room cabin, which was 10 feet by 15 feet, in Walden woods.

As I write this, lockdowns are being lifted on various timetables in various places. Of course unlike Thoreau’s isolation, ours has involved lamps, not candles; bathrooms, not pits. We have had the internet and Zoom and Netflix. But right now it can feel like we know as little about what comes next as Thoreau did when he made his experiment.

Soon, as summer unspools, we’ll all travel again – just not as far as we’d planned. We’ll think hyperlocal. We’ll forget our overstuffed vacation itineraries of old and dial down the pressure. We’ll day trip.

Maybe, as I did on my outing, you’ll reacquaint yourself with your local Thoreau, or that nearby wonder that turns out no less wonderful for its modesty, or someplace you’ve seen plenty but never really looked at. If you’re fortunate, you’ll meet your Christina Davis. You’ll go slower, you’ll expect less, you’ll discover unimagined things precisely because you didn’t think you had to.

“Would [we] have to go far or look very closely to discover novelties?” Thoreau asked. At Walden, beside a common New England pond in an ordinary New England woods, one doesn’t think so. One thinks we can make discoveries in our own backyards for a very long time.

And as we do, maybe we’ll find our way back to the place all our quarantines and social distancing have made us hungriest for. Maybe we’ll be able to say about ourselves what Thoreau was finally able to say in “Walden.”

“At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Comic Debrief

The love seat: A comic about climate change

Once upon a time, in an ad that would seem inconceivable in today’s political environment, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (a Democrat) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (a Republican) sat down in a love seat together to urge climate action.

This was back in 2008, and the message was part of a campaign by former Vice President Al Gore to bring Democrats and Republicans together to address the climate crisis.

But thanks to the rise of political extremism and ramped-up donations from fossil fuel companies to Republican candidates, the climate consensus has broken down. In 2011, Mr. Gingrich repudiated the ad. And since then, President Donald Trump has famously called climate change a “hoax.”

But it looks as though the balance could be shifting again. Polls suggest that, among voters ages 18 to 38, there exists little difference between the responses of Democrats and Republicans when asked if climate change is caused by humans. As the next generation of Republicans takes the helm, climate change denial may go the way of Tyrannosaurus rex. – Eoin O'Carroll Staff writer

Eoin O'Carroll and Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Watch

A close-knit culture, with separation at its core (video)

Ham radio operators are a global collective with a common aim: to forge human connections in an expanding network. As COVID-19 makes us all ‘distance,’ we wanted to tune in to their world.

Peter
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4. A close-knit culture, with separation at its core (video)

You’re logged in, the Zoom meeting underway, and suddenly faces freeze. The best you can do: Reboot the router and cross your fingers. You’re on the phone with a friend, deep in conversation, and the audio gets garbled as the bars on your phone drop from one to none. Technology can fail us at inconvenient times. But imagine a communications technology that could hold up even in the most rugged and remote situations.

It exists, and it’s much older than the smartphone.

Amateur radio, or ham radio, has been around for more than a century, functioning as both workhorse and recreational hobby. After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, amateur operators coordinated communications as cellphone systems became overloaded. They played a key role in Puerto Rico in 2017 after Hurricane Maria took down much of the communications infrastructure. Though there hasn’t been as much of a need during the pandemic – with traditional systems up and running – amateur radio is keeping its own user communities in touch, informed, and emotionally grounded.

“My understanding is that the nets and the bands in general have been somewhat busier than they had been,” says Mike Raisbeck, the American Radio Relay League vice president. “People are looking to touch the rest of humanity.” Some of those new to ham radio are using the time stuck indoors to study for the Federal Communications Commission licensing test required for operator certification. Veteran users are setting up antennas, dusting off old gear, and giving advice to the next generation of hams.

As a pandemic hobby, it’s perfect. Socially distanced, it hails human connection with the push of a button. If the going gets tough, you can always heave a lifeline across the airwaves.

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A knight in shining kindness

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Be flexible. Be bold. Be quicker than you think you can be.

In the COVID-19 era, this is the advice now commonly given to charities and philanthropists. And then there’s Capt. Tom Moore, the example of all that.

The 100-year-old war veteran in Britain has become a global hero for his inspiring spirit of giving, so much so that Queen Elizabeth knighted him Wednesday for his exceptional initiative in fundraising.

In April, Sir Tom set out to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday with the goal of raising $1,250 for health workers in Britain. He was boldly challenging himself to be as flexible at home with a walker as he was challenging others to be flexible and bold in their donations.

He not only completed the laps ahead of time, but also caught the world’s imagination. He ended up raising more than $43 million and counting.

After Sir Tom thanked the queen for being knighted and the public for its generosity, Sir Tom wrote on Twitter: “I will remain at your service.”

Indeed, his example can't help but inspire all of us to greater service.

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A knight in shining kindness

Be flexible. Be bold. Be quicker than you think you can be.

In the COVID-19 era, this is the advice now commonly given to charities and philanthropists. The crisis demands generosity on a mass scale and in creative ways.

And then there’s Capt. Tom Moore, the example of all that.

Or as of May 20, Sir Tom Moore.

The 100-year-old war veteran in Britain has become a global hero for his inspiring spirit of giving, so much so that Queen Elizabeth knighted him Wednesday for his exceptional initiative in fundraising.

In April, Sir Tom set out to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday with the goal of raising $1,250 for health workers in Britain. He was boldly challenging himself to be as flexible at home with a walker as he was challenging others to be flexible and bold in their donations.

He not only completed the laps ahead of time, but also caught the world’s imagination. He ended up raising more than $43 million and counting. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called him “a beacon of light through the fog of coronavirus.”

Sir Tom tapped into a rich vein of humanity during a time of great need. “This started as something small and I’ve been overwhelmed by the gratitude and love from the British public and beyond,” he said. “Everybody has some kindness somewhere.”

Around the world, giving of all kinds has shifted into a different gear to respond to the health and economic crisis. Many governments have set up special foundations to funnel private donations into causes that fill the gap in safety nets. Billions of dollars are being raised to find a vaccine for the coronavirus. Food banks around the world report unprecedented demand – and unprecedented giving.

The United Nations estimates that a quarter of a billion people will require urgent food aid by the end of 2020. Billions already need help of some sort as a result of the pandemic and the economic fallout. Those responding to the need must be flexible, bold, and quick.

After Sir Tom thanked the queen for being knighted and the public for its generosity, he wrote on Twitter: “I will remain at your service.”

Indeed, his example can't help but inspire all of us to greater service.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Evil can never separate us from God

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 4 Min. )

In times of tragedy, evil can seem more powerful than good. But as a man came to understand when he learned a friend had been killed, even in the face of heart-rending tragedy we can let God lead us to the realization that no one can ever be detached from God’s limitless love and care.

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1. Evil can never separate us from God

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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In Christianity’s early days, one of the budding movement’s most spiritually minded men, Stephen, was murdered. Rage motivated the actions of a mob, and for a moment evil seemed to have triumphed over good – presenting the very inverse of Christianity’s message to the world.

Yet something that underscored that message occurred right where evil appeared to have prevailed. Stephen lived the Christian love he had preached. His final words, infinitely gracious, were a prayer for his persecutors: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60).

The healing love Stephen’s life epitomized wasn’t extinguished in that moment, but magnified. His unbowed goodness in the face of evil had a lasting effect through the impact it had on the life of someone present at Stephen’s killing. The man, Saul – one of the most ardent persecutors of Jesus’ followers – was later transformed and became the Apostle Paul, who boldly shared Christ’s message far and wide.

While we can’t know precisely what part Stephen’s forgiveness played in that transformation, Paul’s life echoed and even amplified Stephen’s example of standing for good in the face of evil. Following his dramatic life turnaround, Paul was in a shipwreck, unjustly jailed, and even brutally stoned. Yet through his spiritual understanding, along with the prayers of fellow followers of Jesus, good prevailed over all those evils.

From the perspective of such proofs, Paul said, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).

Even in the midst of our most heart-rending struggles, we too can be persuaded of this spiritual inseparability from divine Love, God, and gain a conviction of the power of divine goodness over the evils we face. In particular, the teachings of Christian Science encourage us to recognize that God’s goodness is not only more powerful than evil, but infinite in nature.

Certainly, evil feels painfully real if we hear of a tragedy. But even then we have a choice. We can accept the finality of the news, or we can strongly challenge the spiritually invalid conclusion that evil has truly been able to rob anyone of even a moment of their eternal inseparability from God’s goodness.

That’s what came to me following news of a friend tragically killed while engaged in selfless service. At first I felt shocked. It seemed that God, good, had been absent when tragedy struck.

But I prayed persistently to attain a higher perception – the Christ-idea of our spiritual inseparability from Love. God isn’t ever absent, not for a moment. That doesn’t mean God is part of the unjust circumstances themselves, or merely standing by. It means that God is truly present instead of whatever circumstances suggest the opposite.

Like Paul, Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, courageously overcame countless challenges to her heartfelt labors – in her case, to, as she put it, “reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing” (“Manual of The Mother Church,” p. 17). So it was with the authority of those proofs of God’s ever-present power that she wrote: “We lose the high signification of omnipotence, when after admitting that God, or good, is omnipresent and has all-power, we still believe there is another power, named evil” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 469).

As I pondered this idea, I saw how details of a tragedy are a material sense of a moment in time. But spiritual sense gives us a timeless, divine perspective that perceives only God’s view of creation.

As my thought yielded to that divine sense, I found myself, to use Paul’s word, persuaded that there had never been a moment when my friend wasn’t God’s spiritual offspring, at one with God’s infinite love. I felt such a heartwarming sense of the qualities that made up her unique, spiritual identity and felt clear that they were untouched by the narrative of evil versus good. I also recognized the seeds of healing love she had sown in other lives by expressing her God-reflecting goodness.

Divine Love never pauses, and God’s creation is forever one with that ever-present Love. Knowing that, we can echo and amplify whatever good that evil would claim to steal away, by taking a stand to live even more consistently on the basis of these spiritual ideas.

Adapted from an editorial published in the July 16, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all the Monitor’s coronavirus coverage is free, including articles from this column. There’s also a special free section of JSH-Online.com on a healing response to the global pandemic. There is no paywall for any of this coverage.

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Better together

Christian Murdock/The Gazette/AP
In this unprecedented health crisis, acts of kindness, solidarity, and humanity continue to blossom. From musicians serenading their neighbors to residents coordinating socially distanced dance parties and Zumba classes, people are finding creative ways to uplift others. People have gone above and beyond to express compassion and love for family, neighbors, and essential workers – to weather the storm with their acts of love. As Maya Angelou once said, “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” – Nusmila Lohani
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Be sure to look for your Monitor Daily on Monday, when we’ll have a special edition of readers’ own stories about Memorial Day, what it means to them, and the loved ones they remember.

And a reminder that we’re now giving you a place to track today’s faster-moving headline news that we’ll be reporting on more deeply soon.

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