Dorothy Cummings McLean


Prudence, not panic, is the way forward in this crisis

Panic weakens our immune systems, and it also keeps us from thinking rationally at a time when thinking is required more than ever.
Thu Mar 19, 2020 - 4:23 pm EST
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EDINBURGH, Scotland, March 19, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― I learned how to prepare for war from one of my favorite novels. 

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, highly praised by her mentor Evelyn Waugh, follows the fortunes of the upper-class Radlett family during the 1920s and 30s and into the Second World War. As Britain awaits the almost inevitable German invasion, the now-adult daughters gather with their children and other relations at the family’s draughty country house. Their husbands, brothers, and lovers join the army. Only unsympathetic characters run away to safety in America. 

The Radlett family, sincerely patriotic, put their best face forward. The daughters freely admit to each other that their children adore the disruption. Lord Alconleigh, the patriarch, trains up the local Home Guard and plans for a last-stand fight against the Germans. The narrator’s black sheep mother turns up with her Spanish boyfriend, who turns out to be a chef and a genius at keeping the pantry stocked with delicious edibles. The beauty of the family, bombed out of her London house, turns up covered in furs, for her wealthy boyfriend knows that people will be very cold during the war. 

Lord Alconleigh is convinced that he and most of the men will die in battle in the event of a German invasion, and yet nobody in the family panics. They calmly make their preparations, and they do their best to live together in harmony. When tragedy strikes, the family rallies around to protect the weakest member. Although this comic novel would not pass as moral reading, it does have a lesson or two about resilience and self-sacrifice in the face of adversity.

Fortunately we are not at war against human invaders but a nasty little virus and the panic it is causing. Of course, some people are not concerned at all. There are British holidaymakers in Spain who are refusing police instructors to stay indoors and instead drink, dance, and behave in the inimitable way of British holidaymakers in Spain, assuming that they’re going to get COVID-19 anyway, but not considering how crammed the local ICU will be when they get it. 

As I have written before, this is the real concern of the young and healthy: the ability of our medical systems to cope with hundreds, if not thousands, of people becoming very ill, all at once. If 80% of Edinburgh contracts coronavirus, but only 20% of them need hospital care, that will be 80,000 people needing hospital care within a three month period. This is not factoring in people who routinely need hospital care, like mothers in labor. There were 4,899 births in Edinburgh in 2018; imagine having a baby in a hospital crammed to overflowing with acute care patients. There were, by the way, 13,426 acute care beds for the whole of Scotland in 2018.  

It is, therefore, our duty not to pass on the virus to elderly or other people with weak immune systems and also our duty to do the best not to get sick. This involves refusing to panic. Panic weakens our immune systems, and it also keeps us from thinking rationally at a time when thinking is required more than ever. Prudence, on the other hand, counsels us to pay attention to local medical advice, to carefully assess how many supplies we need at home and where we can get more if needed, and to make contingency plans. 

Very few of us are British tourists drunk on the beaches of Benidorm, and very few of us wish we were, even now as public events are cancelled in our communities. As responsible adults, it is our job to keep ourselves, our spouses, our children, our elderly relations, and our most vulnerable neighbors safe and as content as possible under any condition. If the children must be home from school for the next two months, how will you work together as a family to help them thrive? If your livelihood is threatened, what can you do to soften the financial blow? If church services are suspended in your town, what can you do to preserve your spiritual health? 

It is true that most of us do not live in Italy, and so the terrible toll the virus has taken in Italy may not be repeated where any of the rest of us are. With proper precautions, it shouldn’t be. There really is no need to panic, but prudence is still a virtue.

I remember walking to my parents’ home from downtown Toronto up Bathurst Street during the Northeast blackout of 2003. I was terrified that once night fell, heedless young men in cars would endanger the lives of anyone still outside. Fortunately, this never happened, but I still think I did the right thing in going home at once.  

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