I'm moving on
COVID-19 has cost us so much. As of this writing, there have been over 22 million confirmed cases worldwide and 777,000 deaths, with 172,000 deaths in the US alone. Many businesses are still unable to reopen, to say nothing of churches, and we are all holding our collective breath in fear and uncertainty as states begin to send kids back to school with no universally enforced standards put in place to ensure their safety, no less the safety of administrators and teachers. Grocery store aisles are barren as the demand for food and basic cleaning supplies far outweigh companies' ability to meet the need, and the devastating effects of unemployment have cast a looming threat of sweeping homelessness over millions of Americans who cannot make rent, Americans who depend on leaders too embroiled in partisan in-fighting to agree on even the most basic safety net. We wait for a vaccine and act as if it will be some kind of reset button that will bring back the world we knew when the reality is that recovery will likely take years. All of this during the most bitter and contentious election cycle in modern history.
Simply put, things could be better.
Anyone who is familiar with my work knows I am all but incapable of making any meaningful point without some illustration from a superhero, monster, or holiday movie, so it shouldn't be surprising that, as we struggle over a way forward out of this "new normal," my thoughts drift to the highest-grossing film of all time (which, for reasons that will become clear, thankfully came out in 2019 and not now), Avengers: Endgame.
First, a brief recap of Avengers: Infinity War. The villainous Thanos believes that the universe simply does not have enough resources to support the rapid expansion of life, and that, if left unchecked, the universe will strangle itself from overpopulation. His solution is to gather six stones that embody the elemental forces of the cosmos -- space, time, reality, power, soul, and mind -- and unite them in a gauntlet that will give him the godlike ability to tip the scales back to balance with a snap of his fingers. To the astonishment of the Avengers (any anyone in the audience who never read the comic book it was inspired by), Thanos succeeds.
With a snap heard 'round the universe, half of all living things are dusted out of existence, including many of our beloved superheroes. It was the perfect cliffhanger. The year-long wait for its conclusion gave ample time for speculation, as many online video essayists and bloggers found themselves making the not-aging-well argument that Thanos was right, and that the world would be better off with a massive decrease to the population. (Insert your own uncomfortable collar-tugging here).
Endgame picks up five years later with the aftermath. Yes, the earth healed. Rivers are clean again and the sky is clear, but at a cost that could never justify the gain. Sound familiar? The scene in particular that I find myself thinking about is a small but important moment in which Captain America leads a support group for survivors of the snap, individuals struggling to find meaning and hope in their new normal. His words to the group are the words we need now, a year after the film's release:
"You gotta move on. You gotta move on. The world is in our hands. It's left to us, guys, and we gotta do something with it. Otherwise, Thanos should have killed all of us."
Sadly, unlike in Avengers: Endgame, we can't go back in time and try to fix this catastrophe. There is no bringing those we have lost back. There is no quick fix, as badly as we want there to be. Whether we recognize it or not, we are conditioned to look at life like a series of movies, with conveniently-structured beginnings, middles, and ends. And sometimes it works out like that. But sometimes the story isn't a movie like The Avengers, with a grand and tidy resolution that clips all the branches and leaves us satisfied. Sometimes, it's a meandering TV show that lasts for too many seasons and peters out. It doesn't end so much as it stops, and we are left feeling hollow.
Our brains desperately want COVID-19 to be a movie, but it isn't; it's a TV show. A bad one. Like, last season of Game of Thrones bad. We find ourselves yelling at our screens, at the characters we have been following through the journey, baffled by what we are seeing.
"Why are you acting this stupid?!"
"This is totally out of character!" "Why aren't you doing this, it's so obvious!"
"It's like they don't even care anymore!"
"All this waiting for nothing!"
"Keep your politics out of it!"
"At this point, it's all just a big money-grab."
Seriously, though. Bran?!
These days, we have multiple options for engaging with media that lets us down. We can A) Accept it and wait for it to get better, B) Vent about it online, C) Reach out to the showrunners through their platforms, or D) Write our own story.
Consider how the people in your life have responded to COVID-19. Who do you know that is just sitting on their hands and waiting to see how it plays out? Who complains on social media or maybe gets into fruitless arguments? Are you a little guilty of that one? I know even I have a hard time not clapping back sometimes. What about our elected officials? Are we reaching out to them to make our needs known and hope they act in our best interest? At the very least, will we vote for candidates who reflect the response we want to see? I hope we will, but, more importantly, I hope we decide within ourselves to own our story and move on. We can chart the course of the narrative, learning from the mistakes of other storytellers and determining to do the best we can within our limited sphere of influence in the plot we have been given.
Admittedly, that last option is a lot harder, impacted by a variety of mitigating circumstances. I am not saying everyone can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps from a pandemic, and I am definitely not suggesting we should pretend it isn't real and act recklessly, or blindly reopen things because we personally feel "over" it, or reject the cautions of experts in favor of pundits who say what our itching ears want to hear. I am, however, saying that we have the power to change our attitude and decide whether we are going to frame this as something being done to us or something we can do something about. The difference is the willingness to adapt.
Life only goes on if you do. To use myself as an example, my business model as a writer and entertainer has taken a massive hit. Yes, I am reaching out to churches like I always do to schedule events for fall and winter. I even made a fancy guideline of all the precautions and best practices I am putting in place to keep my in-person events COVID-safe. You can read it here if you are curious. But if you've ever been to one of my shows, you know how interactive they are. Even if I can do a show at a church like normal, I can't have people come up on stage and decorate each other like Christmas trees or wrap each other up like mummies. The show must go on, because that's what I do for a living, but the show must change. And even the strictest guidelines won't be enough for some people's comfort, so I am also offering churches the option of presenting my shows as live streams through Facebook or Zoom instead. A year ago, I didn't even know what Zoom was. Now, I'm depending on it to do my job, like millions of other Americans. This is the hand we've been dealt, and we have to play it. If we don't, then, to paraphrase Captain America, COVID-19 might as well have killed all of us.
I reject the idea that this is our "new normal." It is not. It is a bridge between what our normal was and what our normal will be. The sooner we choose to move on and cross that bridge, the sooner we will be able to pick up the pieces and build that new normal. It is daunting but also encouraging. And needed. Like rummaging through the remains of a fire or hurricane, this time of rebuilding gives us pause to evaluate the structural integrity of how we used to do normal and discern which parts worked and which parts need to change. And, honestly, as we witness the damage while the storm is still raging, we might find that a lot of things weren't working. The upshot is the opportunity to build something enduring. Something better.
What does moving on look like for you? Is it as simple as shifting your work to an online model like me and hoping there will be enough demand to make ends meet? Is a more drastic change necessary? Is it a combination of strategies? I don't know. I don't know your circumstances, and it would be irresponsible to suggest that one solution exists for all our woes. Life is more complicated than that. The world is more complicated than that, but it has been left to us, and we gotta do something with it. We gotta. Things could be better, and they will be if you make them better. But before you take the world in your hands, just be sure to wash them first.
Upward and Forward.
If you enjoyed my comparison to Avengers: Endgame, you might like my book, The Superhero Gospels, a devotional of spiritual lessons we can learn from 25 of the best superhero movies ever made. Get your copy here.
A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.