Hic Dracones

Dragons

“Hic Dracones”.  The warning appeared on an old map and we should print it on ours, too.  “Here, there are dragons.”  Or, as Fred Buechner wrote, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.”  And they do.  Love and cruelty.  Children and war.  Sunrise and virus.

There has never been a world without dragons, nor even a city block.  Our precious things are all the more precious because they are fragile.  As G. K. Chesterton wrote, “all good [is] a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin”; never assured, but “saved… as from a [ship]wreck.”

So, it’s a dangerous world.  Now what?  That’s the question for every culture and every generation – the question that defines us and shapes the world in which our children will live.  We are, for example, children and grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, named for the size of the dragons they fought.

But we seem to think of dragons differently today, as if this was the kind of world in which one could simply “stay home and stay safe”.  But since Eden, this has never been that kind of world.  Safety is not to be found in quiet corners.  We may hide for a while, but our children must eat, and that makes all of our work essential.  For most of us, staying home is anything but safe.

We have been hectored into a new, touchless normal.  If we see one another’s face, it is probably on a computer screen.  We enter grocery stores looking like bandits, are vectored down the aisles, and told where to stand.  It may be the land of the free, but we obey the tape on the floor.  We cannot smile and we cannot easily speak.  We do not shake hands or pat one another on the back.  Our new ethic is distance. 

We don’t know if any of this helps.  The point is that it might help, and our fear is such that any possibility justifies a new normal.  Our fear is rich and complex; fear of the disease, fear of what others will think, fear of the government.

And clearly, there is more to it than fear.  We know who the disease targets and we want to protect them.  God forbid that we do not try to do so.  The point is that – as the thousands of deaths in nursing homes around the country demonstrate – neither fear nor acquiescence to government officials has worked.

The answer is not a new normal.  This is not our nation’s first dragon, and it is far from our worst.  We began in the right place, with a system of government that forbad the sort of overreach we see from several Governors today.  That overreach must be stopped and condemned. 

And this new, touchless normal, however well-intentioned, should be recognized as ridiculous and discarded as soon as possible.  We need to work.  We need to worship together.  We need to be in one another’s presence and meet with courage the dragons of this world.

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C. S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age”

“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb – when it comes – find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

Shoppers photo: Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

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