The first lady calls us to look at the fragile truth

BY ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN, Columnist
Posted 9/4/20

“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!” That line is from the musical “Hamilton.” As the coronavirus continues, however, I hear the same words as a lament.

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The first lady calls us to look at the fragile truth

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Posted

“Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!”

That line is from the musical “Hamilton.” The Schuyler sisters live in New York City at the dawn of the American Revolution. While they acknowledge the danger of imminent war, they sing their excitement in soaring harmonies.

As the coronavirus continues, however, I hear the same words as a lament. Deaths from COVID-19 climb toward 200,000 in our country. Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive … at all.

This grim reality barely registered a blip during the Republican National Convention. There was a noticeable lack of face masks and social distancing among the crowds. Few speakers made mention of the pandemic, their heads in the proverbial sand.

The first lady was a notable exception.

Melania Trump expressed sympathy for mourners and praised the men and women who help “when we are at our most fragile.” In a convention that styled itself a crusade for law and order, this “fragile” moment was honest.

Strength is the goal of a political convention. Whether referring to bones, egos or presidents, “fragile” hardly has a positive connotation. The Latin root of fragile means, not surprisingly, “easily broken.” If something is fragile, then it must be handled with care. By the 16th century, the term was spiritualized as “morally weak” and “liable to sin.” And by 1858, there was the first documented reference to a “fragile” person as someone who was physically sick. It seems that Republicans do not believe that identifying with such fragility will win votes.

Yet, psychologist Susan David has proven that strength comes from acknowledging our fragility.

David lost her father to cancer when she was only 15 years old. Back then, if someone asked how she was doing, she would reply, “OK.” She was praised for being strong and independent. She might have gone onto a career as a politician …

But David’s eighth grade English teacher didn’t buy this facade.

This teacher handed her a blank notebook with the instructions to “write like nobody’s reading.” This freed the grieving teenager to express her true feelings, and David now claims this honesty made all the difference both in terms of her emotional well-being and future career. As a psychologist, she has dedicated her life’s work to helping others.

The truth sets us free (John 8:32).

So, I say to all of us: Look around, look around! Things are not “OK.” Melania Trump spoke of “the invisible enemy COVID-19.” Not only is the virus invisible, but many of the dying are unseen. They are in nursing homes, low-income neighborhoods and prisons. The majority of the dead are either elderly, immigrants or people of color — people who are often overlooked even in healthy times. The “lucky” or privileged among us can choose to ignore the suffering. But, if we would look beyond ourselves, then the truth can inspire compassion.

In this fragile time, more of us can look to help the most vulnerable or “least among us” (Matthew 25) instead of putting up a political facade — the lie that our current response to the coronavirus has been “great.”

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.

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