By Charles Towne
If ever there was a word that might provoke confusion and fear, it is this dreaded word:
Pandemic — an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population (Merriam-Webster).
I know a little bit about confusion and fear.
When I was a boy back on the Fox River in Illinois, I saw some strange, wondrous and terrifying things… like the Blob. I will never forget the Blob!
“The Blob?!” you ask.
Yes, the BLOB!
While my memory fails me on many of the details, I remember distinctly that it was nighttime – the best time to catch turtles.
Allow me to digress a moment in case you don’t know why I’d be so keen to catch turtles at night. Turtle meat! To some folks turtle meat, especially snapping turtle meat, is quite a delicacy. These, like other individuals in various0 parts of the world, are somewhat… less discriminating… than you or I might be, and they will eat anything that wiggles, slithers, or squirms, including, among other things, bats, fat cats, rats, and snakes. So for some of these folks, eating turtle meat isn’t that strange at all. And so I was eager to catch them, clean them out, and sell the meat.
About 9:00 on one of these particular summer nights, lighting my way with a flashlight, I went out to check the hooks to see if by luck I had caught any turtles.
There was a tree that had fallen into the river, and out there at the end of the tree where it was laying in the water, I had placed a short piece of heavy fish line with a big fish hook. Baited on that big fish hook was a chunk of ripe meat to entice any hungry snapping turtles that might venture by.
Cautiously, I climbed out on the fallen tree, and… oh boy! A big old snapping turtle had taken my bait and was waiting for me. I was so excited!
I knelt on the tree and was in the process of reaching out to grasp the fish line, all of my attention on the turtle, when – SURPRISE!
Suddenly it was there!
There in the water, no more than two or three feet from me, something… some… THING, I know not what, was floating. But not just floating. It was breathing… hissing… and wheezing… like an asthmatic old man, inhaling and exhaling, in and out, in and out!
It…whatever it was… was about the size of a basketball. A pale white, amorphous basketball-sized Blob, floating there in front of me in the darkness!
I forgot all about the turtle! I mean, for all I knew BLOBS EAT BOYS!
Completely terrified, scared of the unknown, I fled to the house, certain that the Blob was going to get me.
Confusion and fear. I know it well.
I never did figure out what the Blob was. I just knew what I didn’t know, and it was enough to have me hightailing it out of there.
Fast forward to another time on the river.
I was five or six, walking along in the shallow water, when I looked up ahead of me and saw “it”… something that surprised me mightily.
“It”, like the Blob, was like nothing I had ever seen before, and because I had never seen anything like “it” before, I decided to wade to shore and watch “it” intently… from the safety of the land.
“It” was moving!
Not only was it moving – it was fluctuating in size! Moving, changing, morphing, growing – larger one moment, and smaller the next.
It was strange! Scary and strange!
I must admit to some small concern. Perhaps a tad more than small… but I was fascinated.
It was large… likely three or four feet across at times… and then, it would shrink… only to expand again. It was constantly changing!
Can you imagine what it was?
As I watched, a Red-Winged Blackbird flew over, casting a fleeting shadow across the “thing”… and when this happened, something quite marvelous happened. As the bird’s shadow fell on it, “it” turned into “many”, and I was able to discern the individuals that made up the whole.
What I was watching, when I finally understood “it”, it no longer posed a threat. “It” turned out to be a school of hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny, inch-long baby catfish, merging and coalescing to form a community of many.
There is usually an explanation for the strange and inexplicable in nature, just as there is in life.
As the baby catfish scattered in confusion from the shadow of the Red-Winged Blackbird, so do many of us “scatter” in our own ways when confused or fearful, exposed to something we might consider a threat or menace. We shrink back from what we don’t know.
To this day I’m not sure what the “Blob” was, but you can bet there is a rational explanation. In nature, there always is.
This pandemic, this evil dragon that is raging through our land disrupting all we hold dear and turning “normal” on its ear, will eventually run its course. And when it does, we will be better than before.
We will learn more about it so it will no longer be “novel”, strange, or scary.
With God’s grace through and with science, we will find a vaccine to overcome it.
And we will discover again, as we have through every crises, that “the greatest thing to fear is fear itself” (FDR). No matter how strange or terrifying a situation is, when we choose to stand and face it instead of shrinking back from it, we will find our way through it.
I believe this pandemic is no different.
When we choose everyday to rally side by side, and when we stand together upon our rocks of strength and hope, we will better face the unknowns swirling in the waters in front of us. Not with fear and trepidation, but with courage and solidarity.
The Rock I stand on, and invite you to try standing on too, is the same one David wrote of in Psalm 18: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold….”
When we stand together, the “Its” and “Blobs” and “Pandemics” of our world will be seen for what they are — nothing compared to strength of us, and nothing compared to the strength of us standing on the Rock and strength of God.
May you find hope and peace instead of fear this week as we continue to face the unknowns, stronger and better together.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.