Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
June 2020 - Volume 20, No. 6
“Be Safe” - Well-wishing in a Covid Age - Part 1 of 2
Ever since this past March, only three months ago, when Covid-19 descended upon, surrounded, and changed so much of life as we once knew it, we’ve begun to wrestle out a ‘new reality’ in terms of 1) what we say, 2) what we do, and 3) what all of it can begin to mean.
Perhaps a better structure would involve 3 different layers of life. The first is what was, or what has been - independent of whether it worked or not. The second layer is what it has become, what it has become now. And then third and finally, what can become of it. These are not always sequential, in order, but they are generally a progression: A->B->C.
Protocols of well-wishing
Let me begin in the first layer, where we have generally established ‘what we say’ parts, - especially what I’ll call the protocols of well-wishing. I’ll begin with the signatures we use in letters or emails (including messages, faxes, etc). I remember the official terms, ‘complimentary close’, and ‘closing salutation.’ A 3-minute search on Google will produce a comprehensive handful of them.
However, in these days of the pandemic troubles, I’m needing a softer frame of reference, more than just sincerely or best regards and less intimate than love or fondly - normally followed by a ‘signature’ name.
To be honest, I’m now looking for something with a little more connection, something that acknowledges, whether consciously or not, that we’re a little bit closer together because of our common troubles, uncertaintyand even suffering.
And so I find some additional personal well-wishing in the recently emerging convention, “Be Safe.”
A Deeper Look
A significant part of my clinical training was in the area of semantics. So I can recognize that “Be Safe” is an incomplete sentence (or incomplete idea). In some cases with a client, to penetrate the deeper (perhaps hidden or unconscious) meaning, I’ll respond with the question:
Be safe from what? or
Be safe for what? or perhaps
Be safe so that?
Perhaps I’ll ask what they would want the word ‘safe’ to mean?
- for themselves, for others, or which others?
In this past (and continuing) weeks of unleashed rage and desperation, triggered by the murder of Mr. George Floyd on Memorial Day, I’ve been beset with my own private time of grief, horror, disbelief (almost), curiosity and even dare I say hope. I’m not one to shed tears in company, but in my solitude there has been much weeping here these past months, and especially in this past week. I’m now more aware that a black or other-racial woman or man can look at me, and the words “Be Safe” can have an entirely different meaning.
In my current imagination also, I can see a bent heavy man with a dangling tie, being bunkered with his minions beneath the White House, only to emerge to a nearby churchyard with an (unopened) Holy Bible in hand, after having just seen to the gassing of protesters, most of them peaceful - all for the sake of a photo-op as a “law and order president.”
And then the entire scene fades into a toxic evening mist,
along with the man with the blue tie,
and the Bible with two smooth unused red ribbon markers.
Where now do I feel protection? Here I feel so very lost and alone.
Where now do I feel “safe?”
Strange, I’d feel greater safety now with many of the protesters. I’d feel a protection even among many of the police. Even among the angry and furious and enraged - and among those who have already lost so much. The heart of a soldier who returns from battle, still always hungers to make things whole again.
I began this essay with a well-wishing for safety. “Be Safe.” It primarily grew out of the frightening emergence these past months of Covid-19 - an entity that can poison and kill before we can even know it’s present.
We had just witnessed the murder of George Floyd on a national holiday. Those who are supposed to protect us, instead murder us, and we got to watch it live, to boot.
And then to our (white folks) horror, we begin to (have to) see how much we’ve been complicit.
Covid-19 itself has begun to blow open the statistical reality our deep racism. Is it an accident that those who die and suffer among us are much more our poor and people of color? Is it an accident that statistics and memory join to demonstrate that black lives haven’t mattered enough for so many of us.
What can we say when we really do want to wish each other well - especially in this time of such turmoil? What can we truly say that does carry our well-wishing when we find ourselves now “all in this together”?
Words of well-wishing (reprise)
I recently found these new words of well-wishing, and want to share them.
And next time I’ll speak more of them, where they came from, and the deep meaning they carry for our healing and hope. In the meantime, I give them to you here for your consideration. Live with them for awhile and see what happens.
For you and your loved ones, I (we) wish you:
- Continued well-being.
- Protection, and
- Deep community connection
And, as you look around,
And until next time,
Semantics is the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with the meaning of things.
At a deeper level, there can be found a new sense of camaraderie or dedication. When you need something, it may be a stranger who provides it. The same we can see in Covid caretaking. We may call them heroes. Something about them seems to just “show up.”