An Excerpt from my New Book: Facing the Beast: Courage, Faith and Resistance in a New Dark Age
In November 2022, I traveled to Florida, to do research for a new book. I stayed in a hotel for almost a week, in a modest, touristy town, a few miles from the beach.
We were able to be in Florida at that time because for the second year, we had not been invited to Thanksgiving celebrations with our relatives.
Two years in, I had stopped hoping that we would be, and my pain had scarred over into angry dismissiveness; and anger at myself that I still wanted so badly to rejoin my people, my nearest ones.
I tried not to think about this at all. It never did not hurt.
For anyone who may have forgotten, Florida and New York were, at that time, essentially different countries. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was giving press conferences showcasing the fact that he had not closed down local businesses, and that his economy was thriving. Public health in Florida, as he pointed out, was about the same as in lockdown states. But New York governor Kathy Hochul, on the other hand, was persevering with policies that shocked even some diehard lockdown militants. She sought to create quarantine camps, and when a judge objected and struck down her bid, she appealed. And she insisted on keeping schools and businesses compliant with disabling mRNA injection mandates and with forced COVID measures.
Every day, when I was in the hotel in the friendly, little, whimsically tacky beach town, from the moment I opened my eyes till the moment I settled into my cool hotel sheets, my heart exulted with indescribable happiness.
You know those dreams in which a loved one who is dead appears to you, in full youth and health and vigor? You say to that person, in the dream, with tears of joy streaming down your cheeks, Oh my God—you are not dead! But then you wake up, and that person is still dead.
It was that dream.
But for a nation.
In Florida I was in a delirium of happiness mixed with nostalgia mixed with grief—because it felt like America.
That is, it felt the way I remember America to have felt, pre-2020.
The malls, the cookie-cutter townhouse developments, the chain stores and auto body shops, churches and sports bars, were the same as they were anywhere in the country.
But the people were entirely different. The culture was entirely different.
Everywhere I went I saw people who were—proud, and confident, and relaxed.
It did not matter who they were, or from where they had come. This was a universal birthright, it seemed, in that part of America.
The very young bartender/busboy, who had recently immigrated from Thailand, was proud, confident, and relaxed. The multigenerational family reunion groups, families who had lived for generations in the region, were proud, confident, and relaxed. The suburban moms walking to their vans in the mall parking lot, were proud, confident, and relaxed. My Uber driver, a former special operator whose wife had opened a Filipino food truck in the downtown area, was proud, confident, and relaxed. The pretty forty-something bartender with one side of her head shaved and with a flowering vine tattooed down one arm, who showed me pictures of her two adult sons—one, she explained, who had autism—the young men standing on either side of their mom, hugging her tight, and all of them grinning; she, too, was proud, confident, and relaxed.
And so on. African American, Caucasian, Latino, whatever, male, female, aged, and young; this was a quality that united everyone.
There was a big, colorful sign—a piece of public art—in the little green park flanking the mall. People stood in front of it to take photos for Instagram.
It read, “You Are Deeply Loved.”
Once, when I was walking back to my hotel, I passed a small group of people—three or four of them—with their arms around each other, heads bowed, in a huddle. Colleagues? Friends? A family?
I realized that they were unselfconsciously, publicly, praying.
The pride in themselves, and the calm sense of security of people everywhere around me, simply being who they were, and gladly, openly, showing others who they were, really struck me.
I remembered this quality from the Before Era, as being generally true of Americans.
It was this once-American quality that had formerly so fascinated the rest of the world—the broken, fearful, inhibited rest of the world.
Whether it was the admiration in ravaged 1950s Europe of the proud, relaxed gunslinger John Wayne, or the French marveling in the 1960s at the unabashedly goofy Jerry Lewis, or the appreciation worldwide in the 1970s of beat poet Allen Ginsberg sharing his wild free verse with rapt college audiences while seated on a meditation pillow, Americans were once magnetically attractive because we were once so proud—of ourselves, our speech, our liberties—in a nation in which our individuality was protected by an intact Constitution.
We were relaxed, compared to other peoples, because our rights were inviolable.
The lure of America was not that “the streets were paved with gold” or that one could make a fortune in a generation, though that was attractive, no doubt, to many; the true magnetism of Americans was that we acted like free people.
It was that charismatic quality that everyone still had in Florida, and that had been lost—dramatically in some cases and imperceptibly in others—in the lockdown and mandate states. I did not realize how bad it felt in New York State day by day, till I left it.
Because people in Florida felt relaxed, proud, and confident, and because they had never been held indoors against their will, told where to stand, stripped of their holidays, or forced into submitting to poisonous unchosen injections, there was a rhythm to social life there still. People from all walks of life chatted away with one another; the lady who wrapped up the sandals I bought chatted away with me, she chatted with all who came in; the chiropractor I visited chatted away with his customers; the salad shop workers chatted with the people who dropped off the bagels; the lady moving her grocery cart around me made a jolly, friendly remark. All this complexity took place in a peaceful, almost measurable rhythm.
When social scientists have done stop-motion videos of people moving around a city intersection, they prove that humans move in a perceptible rhythm; by the same token, newborns sync their breathing and nervous systems with their moms’ and vice versa, and happy couples’ respiration and even heartbeats align when they sit near one another.
Whole communities unconsciously align with one another in creating complex rhythms.
I had been feeling, strongly, that something was discordant, jarring, in how we in the lockdown states were relating to each other as 2022 was drawing to a close. The contrast with Florida showed me what it is: we had had our community rhythms broken off, our human music silenced.
Then, as we started up our lives again, our interactions became tentative, awkward, erratic. Do we chat with the checkout girl? Do we not, as she is just trying to breathe behind her mask? Did she get out of the habit of chatting, if unmasked now? Do we drop in on a friend? Or do we Zoom now forever? Do we hug, shake hands; not hug, not shake hands?
Or do we never again just embrace, just kiss, just stop by?
It was all smashed to smithereens.
But in Florida, I saw from the richness of those little social moments that these were a people who had not lost two years of church, of knitting clubs, of Rotary, of synagogue, of playdates, of ballroom dancing, of after-work happy hours, of bowling, of fishing, of brunch, of poker games, of christenings, of bar mitzvahs.
So the myriad, invisible bonds that are created with every human interaction and woven tight by kindness and mutual enjoyment and shared mission—had never been severed. That continuity allowed for the restful, elegant human rhythm I saw all around me.
How lovely it was; how heavenly.
If you want the Kingdom of Heaven—it turns out that other people simply acting decently to one another, in community, are in fact the Kingdom of Heaven.
(I think Jesus did try to tell us that.)
In contrast, we in the lockdown states, the mandate states, barely knew how
to approach one another; we’d lost two years of weaving our lives together.
The babies and toddlers of 2020 to 2022 in Florida still engage in peekaboo. I realized, when a Floridian toddler launched into the game with me, how much I missed that ancient interaction.
I happened to visit Houston after my Florida journey. And while the freedom of Texas had not been as absolute as the freedom of Florida, I saw the same relaxed pride and confidence among adults and the same expressiveness among little ones, that I had seen in Florida.
The babies and toddlers of Florida and Texas still issue crazy, heart-melting smiles at passing strangers, and wave at them or babble at them or try to tell them things, as human babies and toddlers evolved to do.
But this innate expressiveness became all but extinct among the babies and toddlers of 2020 to 2022 up in the Northeast, and in California, and in other lockdown, mandate states.
These Northeastern little ones of 2020 to 2022 stared with blank, impassive faces at adult faces that had only recently emerged from terrifying, disorienting masks.
The expressions of these poor children are more insect-like than human, and without that gorgeous interactivity, these babies and children of 2020 to 2022 lose much of the human charm with which they would otherwise be endowed. Their stony impassiveness is a devastating feedback loop. As they are not talking to or babbling to or smiling at adults, fewer adults talk to or smile at them.
Why do I raise all of this in relation to Thanksgiving 2022?
Because we must face the fact that adults in the parts of the country that locked down and endured mandates do not have this relaxed pride, so formerly typical of Americans, anymore, and their children too are now different—and perhaps always will be.
These populations, I saw so clearly as I went from Florida and Texas to the Northeast, now have something broken in them; in us.
I realized when I left Florida and Texas and landed in Boston and drove to New York, that what was blanketing the lockdown, mandate states was shame and fear.
Yes, even as late as November 2022.
There was a palpable blanket of shame and fear now over New York, over Massachusetts, because we all have been through a life-changing traumatic experience, and not just for a day or for a month but for two years.
We were all violated in front of one another.
We were all made helpless to save one another or ourselves.
Husbands could not protect their wives from being forcibly injected, if the wives had to keep their jobs.
Parents could not save their adult children from being forcibly injected, if the adult children wished to feed their own families.
Adult sons and daughters could not save their elderly parents from miserable isolation and from dying alone.
Wives could not save their husbands from being neglected in hospitals or even impaired or worse with remdesivir, a drug that had been assigned by the guidelines of compromised agencies such as NIH as the standard hospital protocol for treating COVID, but which caused kidney damage and death. The WHO advised against prescribing remdesivir for COVID-19 patients. A study published in The Lancet showed worse adverse events for those on remdesivir than in the control group, and the study had to be terminated because 12 percent of the participants taking the drug had adverse outcomes.
How many Thanksgivings do you have left?
None of us knows.
But the Dr. Walenskys of the world, the Dr. Faucis, the presidents, the governors, who have no authority over you, decided without your consent that they knew better than you what was important in your life; and they decided to take away forever two of your Thanksgivings.
You will never get those back.
So, we try to pick up again, here in the Northeast, our rituals, with a sense of awkwardness and shame—shame that they were so easily stripped from us; shame that we were so duped; shame that we so publicly could not protect ourselves or our loved ones.
Men were unmanned. Women were un-womaned.
The Thanksgiving gatherings may even look different than they did pre-2020. Some families are broken right through. Some relationships will never heal.
All of us, outside of Florida, and Texas, and maybe South Dakota, the few nonlockdown, nonmandate states, are now victims. We never won’t be.
For Thanksgiving, I want America back. But to make all of America, not just a few blessed states, free and confident, safe and relaxed once again, will take a generation.
And it can only happen for us as a nation trying to heal—just as this is true for any of us who try to heal as individuals—if we first face the agonizing fact that our bodies were, indeed, a battlefield, as feminists used to say; that we were indeed, as a nation, stripped, and shamed before everyone; held hostage, and plundered, and violated.
It can only happen for us if we seek out now not just abundance, but truth.