I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’ve noticed people on edge lately. The horrific shooting this past week at the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in San Jose, California is the latest example. The gunman, a VTA employee, was reported to have been under such intense pressure at work that he finally snapped. The media described him as “highly disgruntled.” Certainly, he was disgruntled enough to murder eight coworkers and kill himself after trying to burn his house down.
This is an extreme example, but you don’t have to go very far to find varying degrees of edginess. I’ve run across people on edge as they shop for groceries, walk their dogs, park their cars, and eat meals. They look stressed, even fearful, which comes as a surprise after the highly-anticipated Covid vaccine. Life was supposed to return to normal after getting it. We even have three flavors to choose from, but it seems that masks, social distancing, and vaccines haven’t quite moved the needle (pardon the pun) as they like to say in business school.
If what I have observed is real and people are just as anxious and on edge as ever, two questions come to mind: why and what’s to be done about it? As to why, it’s becoming clear that the virus, while putting people on edge initially–and for good reason–isn’t the source of the edginess. If it were, half the country would feel relieved right now; the half that’s been vaccinated. But that’s not the case. Not only is there more edginess, but there’s more crime, too, including violent crime. It’s not from the pandemic. Covid doesn’t shoot coworkers or burn houses down. People do things like that when they snap from being overworked or unemployed; that is, when despair overwhelms them.
So, maybe the edginess I’ve seen on people reflects an underlying despair. Maybe we’ve had it wrong all along. Covid, the economy, and the political, ideological, and racial lines that divide us are distracting us from the real problem. That problem is despair, which, morally speaking, is a sin. If this is true, there’s no vaccine that can inoculate people from it. It will continue to spread even after Big Pharma develops vaccines for Covid20 and beyond. The fearful will continue to act out of desperation and look to experts for answers, surrendering even more of their individual freedoms. If this sounds like hyperbole, consider showing your face in public. Imagine a scenario in which this suddenly becomes a privilege, vaccination or not.
To answer the second question, what is to be done, we have to define despair. I’m sure some of us have lost control at some point in our lives and felt the granite-like weight of panic on our chest that made it difficult to breathe. Despair can do that by ripping away our identity and everything we thought we knew about ourselves and the world around us. Nor can we find relief from the torment that comes from losing our identity. Worse, despair can convince us that everything we have been living is a lie; that we have deluded ourselves and wasted our time on dreams that never will come true because of some flaw or inadequacy. Is that not agony? Despair has got to be the air of hell.
This is why the answer to being on edge is faith. Faith drives away despair and leads us toward ultimate meaning. The distinction is clear. Despair feeds on disorder and chaos. Faith recognizes an order in the universe that we catch glimpses of here in the microcosm of Earth and in relationships with others even when the earthly order is imperfect. Key to understanding this and benefitting from it is realizing that we have a choice. We can choose one or the other: order or disorder. This is a moral issue and why despair is counted as a sin.
Realistically, though, it doesn’t seem like much of a choice at all. Unless you work for a circus, why would you want to walk on a tightrope?
Image credits: feature by Sean Benesh; hand by Stormseeker; prayer by Timothy Eberly. Remember and pray for all those who have died in battle this Memorial Day (see In Memoriam: Vincent Cannizzaro). Note: Look for the first episode of “The Brancatelli Blog Pod” this Wednesday, June 2, 2021 on Mittwoch Matinee.