The early rumors of a deadly pandemic were disturbing, but most people simply prayed it would not visit our shores. And then it did. Early statistics from Italy and other hotspots suggested that COVID-19 might have a mortality rate approaching 10% — a horrific menace.
Like most Americans, I was concerned: friends and family in Poland, England, France, and Italy at this time reported widespread panic and suffering. Also, my great-grandmother had perished at a young age here in Vermont, in 1918, of Spanish flu — with five young children. I especially feared for my wife (an RN in a local hospital, with inadequate facial protection equipment) and our daughter (a full-time EMT). We often have greater fear for others than we do for ourselves; especially when that fear includes a monstrous ventilator machine drawing out an isolated, agonizing death.
After about three months, the perpetual anxiety of the COVID threat became something I could not bear. I decided that I — or my wife or family members — might die from COVID-19, but that I was not going to be dead now. I could no longer live deadened or paralyzed by fear, so from then on I lived fearlessly.
This did not alter any of my outward behaviors. I still wore a mask in respect of others and their businesses; still respected social distancing. I just did these things without inner terror.
My “inner terror” really was for others, but not just for COVID illness. It was also for the school closings that frightened and alienated children while compromising their education and enjoyment of a precious, fleeting time of life; for those in addiction recovery who would be cut off from vital support groups, therapy, and health care; for the many businesses that were abandoned to economic ruin while many who don’t work received bountiful checks; for the dairy farms and cheesemakers who were financially devastated in Vermont.
As with my fears for health, these ancillary COVID harms had to be balanced if we were to respond rationally and reasonably to “our generation’s Spanish Flu.” We have better medicine than they had in 1918, and we don’t have to milk cows by hand. Surely we can respond sensibly, and without panic, if they did.
Now in May 2021, there are several facts that we know. We know that the very elderly or immunocompromised are at dire risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19, and so should be vaccinated and sheltered. We are told that there is as much as 94% effectiveness of protection for those vaccinated. The overall mortality rate from COVID-19 (even using the CDC’s rather dubious attributions of death) is less than 1% in the United States: for a man my age it is less deadly than flu; for a child without underlying illness it approaches zero. Influenza is more deadly (and we are told it has disappeared!). Healthy children are more likely to be struck by lightning than die of COVID!
These numbers were unavailable to me — to us — when COVID first appeared. It is sensible to shield the elderly, but not to stifle the lives of the young and healthy; let alone to terrify them with irrational fear. (As one Vermont Senator continues to try to do, fabricating facts for lack of data; weaponizing the disease to foment political fear and to agitate against fellow citizens). The argument that children should be vaccinated to protect the elderly is doubly upside-down: there is no evidence to show that is an appreciable threat, and even if there were there is no consideration of the impact on children. How about we risk the lives of us old people instead of compromise young lives, rather than the present vice versa?
Then there is the loathing, by people who snarl and shame anyone who doesn’t wear a questionably effective mask or line up eagerly for an experimental injection (because that is precisely what this is). This loathing and contempt toward others is a direct product of that fear that I cast off, but which conquered their joy. People gripped by perpetual fear will easily translate the slightest anxiety from even an irrational threat into a toxic personal crusade. It’s as if those of us who are free of fear must be dominated by the “least common denominator” of those who are (like the cowardly Senator McCormack).
But the opposite is the case: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Instead of fabricating unfounded fear, Vermonters want to enjoy some sunshine, breathe some fresh air, see unmasked smiling faces eating home cooked healthy food. And that should be the face of confident optimism that brave parents, leaders and grandparents present to the young who depend on us to model character and fortitude in the face of adversity. We will exhibit, and spread like a good infection, that cautious but hopeful optimism that says that the greatest threat to our children, liberties, mental health, and futures is not death by COVID-19 ventilator: it is suffocation by fear.
Let us teach others how much more enjoyable is a brave life aware of risk than a cowering enslavement in self-induced torment. The only thing to loath is fear itself — not those enjoying liberty rationally, without fear.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2021. All rights reserved.