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Life as performance art

Life as performance art

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By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

Spanish director Luis Bunuel made a film about people who meet for dinner, then, after the meal, discover they cannot escape the room. Before long, instead of working together to find a solution, they turn on each othe

I’m glad I can’t remember the movie’s name because I might be tempted to watch it.

The Spanish flu epidemic hit the United States 102 years ago. It began in Europe near the end of The Great War (known better to us as World War I) and spread rapidly.

It jumped the Atlantic Ocean on transport and troop ships returning from the war, then began taking its toll here nationwide. By the time it burned itself out, more civilians and service personnel died from the flu than had been killed during four years of fighting.

It is too easy to compare the current coronavirus with ebola, the Black Death of the Middle ages or Spanish flu. About all they have in common is that they are deadly.

Then again, the way we react to such crises and challenges brings out the best or the worst in us.

One example was the virus that swept through Salem, Mass., near the end of the 1600s. The mass hysteria that resulted led to accusations of witchcraft, which proved deadly for certain of people. It finally came to an end when accusations were made against the governor of the colony and he put a stop to it.

Human nature being what it is, when we are angry or frightened we tend to physically and emotionally tighten up, then take out our emotions on someone we think is weaker or less important than ourselves.

We see it this in customers who are rude to servers, bullying and mass shootings. The most shameful examplea were the lynchings of innocent African-Americans.

Fortunately, we also see the best in people during challenging times. They’re the calm and reasonable ones, patient, tolerant and understanding. I’ve seen them time and again during my 30 years in Saugatuck and Douglas.

We can be a bit sharp with each other at times, march across some toes, but there is a basic human kindness and decency that prevails.

Bunuel’s film makes clear that the veneer of civilization can be a thin one. Given enough stress, even the most elegantly-dressed and glittery people can turn into vicious animals.

The mantra lately is to wash our hands often with soap and water, cover our coughs and sneezes, and not touch our faces. That’s basic hygiene; with it, we need to apply those same principles to our emotional side.

We’ll get through this, just as we’ve muddled through countless challenges in the past.