Saturday, May 16, 2020

Wednesday, May 6, 2020: Fatalism Versus Discovery in the Time of Covid-19 (Babcock)

Last Christmas, my son gave me a copy of Kerby Miller’s excellent historical work Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America. I began reading it several weeks ago in the midst of the pandemic lockdown. Like many others, I was suffering brain fog. As a result, my novel- in-progress, a fictionalized account of my great-great-grandparents’ emigrant lives, was going nowhere. So, I decided I’d take a break and do some background research to rekindle my waning writer’s fire. 

Miller’s book, which is surprisingly readable, has proved most informative, especially concerning the Irish emigrant’s outlook. What really caught my attention was Miller’s observation that the Irish have exhibited a historical tendency toward fatalism. 

Fatalism. That resonated with me as I realized that I have begun embracing fatalism over the last several years. The surge in global warming along with the inauguration of the ultra-right Trump with his message of fury and intolerance has all but extinguished my hope for the future of humankind. Now, with the onslaught of Covid-19, my fatalism has reached full capacity. What this means is I am burdened by overwhelming apathy. 

Whereas most people are enduring severe anxiety, stress, and even terror, I have been suffering acute ennui. Nothing touches me. In one sense, fatalism is liberating. It eliminates one’s desire to take control, which is at the root of fear and anxiety. On the other hand, it is utterly debilitating as it obliterates one’s engagement with life, one’s ability to enjoy and appreciate. It leads to morbidity and despondency. Most importantly, it deadens the soul’s thirst to discover, which is a writer’s purpose and her greatest joy. 

I wasn’t always a fatalist. On the contrary, I was an idealist, passionate about justice, kindness, and most importantly, compassion. Indeed, my one goal in raising my child was to teach him compassion, and I am happy to say I succeeded. But over the years, my idealism has been battered by reality, by witnessing humankind’s unending capacity for destruction and cruelty - to one another, to animals, to our planet. Witnessing this barbarity has deadened my innate idealism and caused me to become a fatalist. 

Now that I have diagnosed my soul’s sickness, I have decided to renounce it and to recover my thirst for discovery. Indeed, this pandemic is a rare opportunity to witness the essential qualities of resilience and hope, mercy and generosity, courage and compassion. All I need do is observe the countless healthcare personnel and essential workers who are toiling so selflessly amidst this plague. Then continue to write my heart out.

Monica Weber Babcock has had numerous poems and short stories published in The John Carroll Review. She has taught writing at John Carroll University and Lorain County Community College. Her poetry chapbook Heartscape was published in 2013, and her novel Burden of Remembrance in 2018.  

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