coping mechanism

Psalm 85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.

My coping mechanism is figuring shit out.

(Hey, Church Ladies who asked for my blog address! Yes, sometimes I cuss, here!)

I’m an Enneagram 5, if that means anything to you. If it doesn’t, well, it mostly means that my coping mechanism is figuring shit out. I want to understand WHY things are happening. I want the patterns to fall into place and make sense.

Aside from the obvious trauma of this pandemic: being stuck at home alone for nine months, every detail of my job getting shifted just enough to be maddening, watching people fall ill and die, witnessing the exponential fear and grief and loss…you know, aside from all THAT, what has been hardest for me, a 5 who needs to *understand,* is not knowing why it seems like half the country has lost their ever-loving minds.

Why, in the midst of a national emergency, are so many of us refusing to believe that the virus is real? Why are so many of us refusing to put a tiny piece of cloth over our face in order to save someone else’s life? Why are so many of us so freaking angry about the Movement for Black Lives? Why are so many churches continuing to kill people with their worship? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

In my (over-educated, generally trusting, middle-class white lady liberal) head, it seems so simple: people all around us are being actively harmed. We should do all that we can to protect everyone. For the life of me, I have not been able to understand why that very simple principle isn’t operating for everyone.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I write to figure shit out. That’s what this is, a spiritual practice of understanding.

I heard two things yesterday that made me wonder about an explanation…

First, this thread on Twitter about nurses in East Tennessee treating patients who – until their dying breath – do not believe that COVID is real. The reporter interviewed nurses and praised their dedication amidst massive misinformation – from Facebook, in particular – about the virus, specifically that hospitals were profiting off of COVID-19. The thread went viral, and another journalist – whose grandfather died of COVID in one of the Ballad Health hospitals that those nurses worked in – added an important wrinkle to the story: The health system is a monopoly in the region, closed the neonatal intensive care unit and downgraded the trauma care when it arrived as a merger of two systems, has sued low income patients over unpaid medical bills, consolidated critical care in a way that makes it much farther away and harder to reach for many patients, and..a surgeon let a local CEO make the first cut in a surgery?!

All that is to say that in a place where healthcare companies are so clearly operating against patient interest, contributing to economic crises and compounding the challenges of rural life, why in the world would we expect people to trust them about something so new and huge?

In her book, “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia,” Elizabeth Catte says that the history of Appalachia is the history of extraction. This part of the world is a place where rich, hateful people have parachuted in – generation after generation – to steal what they can, whether it be coal, land, labor or scapegoat material. They have done this without any care or respect, whatsoever, for the people who live there. When the story that you hear is that the big corporate hospital – who has already taken away your NICU and moved trauma unit another thirty miles away and oh, yeah, by the way, is suing your friends and neighbors who can’t pay their crushing medical debt – is profiting off this supposed “virus,” just like every other corporation and government program has done for the past hundred years, well, I’d say that there’s good reason to believe that story.

The second thing I heard was closer to home: someone I love and trust confided that they were reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available – not because they don’t trust that a vaccine exists, not because they don’t want to care for others, but because they are Black – and the history of Black people & healthcare in this country is even more disgusting and extractive than all that I’ve just described about Appalachia. Have you ever heard of the Tuskegee Experiment?

What Black Americans and Appalachian Americans know is that big government and big business are not trustworthy. This is not a redneck, backwoods, uninformed way of thinking: it is a wisdom and wariness borne of real experience and real suffering. When we – when I – write off these neighbors and siblings as being ornery or ignorant or uncaring, the consequence is actually reifying the oppressive systems and structures that lead to the mistrust. If all these skeptical people are wrong and illiterate, then the system can retain its image of right and good. Extractive and racist industries like coal mining and healthcare get to keep extracting resources and killing people. When we write off individuals, we cede power to evil systems.

I’m still trying to figure shit out. It’s what I do. But the attempt to name SYSTEMS as evil and PEOPLE as trustworthy is really important. Our current disaster is not the fault of COVID-denying Appalachians or vaccine-reluctant Black people. The blame lies with the structures and systems that have, for generations, trampled over beloved people in their haste to lie, cheat and steal their way to hoarding power.

Forgive us, God, for allowing such sinful systems to rule our lives.

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