Refusing to be miserable

Kindness, and being nice is a wonderful antidote for misery. It is also a vaccine against permanent skepticism.

Welcome back, reader! I returned in the wee hours of Friday morning from a whirlwind 13-state family road trip, spending a precious few days stretched out on a beach and in what seemed like one long family party on New Hampshire’s 12-mile seacoast. We feasted on lobster in NH, crab cake in Virginia Beach, Subway sandwiches in a picnic lunch with the Statue of Liberty, a ferry ride across Delaware Bay, and a stunning blue morning driving across the Chesapeake Bay bridge-tunnel.

The best part of the trip was that I pretty much unplugged from news and commentary. My inbox was handled most days with mass deletes instead of critical groans. I watched quite a bit of Olympic highlights at night before bed, and I admit I enjoyed it. Crowds or no crowds, focusing on the accomplishments and achievements of world athletes is easier to do if not wrapped up in COVID-19 fear and political definitions of “sex.”

We had a wonderful time, so I want to talk about today is misery.

Driving around the East Coast, I saw very little misery. Most people were kind, nice to us, friendly, talkative, and—unmasked. The only place I saw most people wearing masks was in the streets of New York City. I couldn’t tell if they were scowling.

(A hilarious aside: driving down the Hutchinson River Parkway, we saw the sign many New Yorkers pass every day since 2018, when the previously defaced sign was replaced, because somehow the Big Apple still hasn’t found a way to remove The Former Guy. It’s the ultimate troll. I laughed myself silly.)

The people we ran into, from the guy who helped us spot dolphins on the Cape May - Lewes ferry, to the friendly clerk at a Virginia eastern shore Stuckey’s, to my NH friends and family, weren’t miserable, political, or shrouded in fear.

We did hear from one nurse who claimed there were 90-plus “double breakthrough” cases in NH or Massachusetts being treated; people sick with COVID-19 who are both vaccinated and prior COVID-19 sufferers. I am very skeptical of that claim. New Hampshire has a 58.6% fully vaccinated rate among adults, with Massachusetts at 64.3%. CNN just reported last Monday that 99.999% of fully vaccinated Americans have not experienced a breakthrough case, according to CDC data.

In Massachusetts, the per 100,000 caseload stands at 13, of which 3 required hospitalization. Many of those new cases occurred in Nantucket County, where a large summer gathering of gay men crammed into small Provincetown clubs created a super-spread hotspot.

For there to be 90 double-breakthrough cases in Mass and NH, that would be nearly 10% of the current average cases reported in Massachusetts, and 62.5% of the current average in New Hampshire. It would mean that the vaccine is completely ineffective, and having had COVID-19 provides little-to-no protection at all from contracting the new Delta variant. It defies imagination to believe that, even coming from a healthcare professional.

In fact, there are breakthrough cases. The vaccines are not 100% effective, and exposure to COVID-19 Delta by vaccinated individuals can result in contracting the illness, as David Thornton has personally experienced in his family. The cases, however, are typically mild. The biggest issue is that infected individuals can spread the virus to unvaccinated individuals very easily, and the symptoms can be mistaken for allergies or other ailments. The lesson is not to assume being vaccinated is a guarantee you won’t get infected.

As for double-breakthrough, I think that would be a more rare event, and I have trouble getting data about it. But if 99.999% of vaccinated people don’t get COVID-19, then 99.9999%, then the rate per 100,000 for double-breakthrough should be in the neighborhood of 0.1, or 1 in a million, and that assumes a low vaccination rate. I am more concerned about living in Georgia, where we haven’t broken 40% fully vaccinated adults, than traveling around the rest of the east, where rates are much higher.

Now that I’m back, I am reading how miserable I am supposed to be. People in Massachusetts read Boston Globe headlines like this: “Lying about vaccination status. Crossing state lines. Pretending to forget ID. Some people are going to intense lengths to get unauthorized COVID booster shots.” The subheading is even worse:

With the Delta variant surging, and breakthrough cases nearing 8,000 in Massachusetts, some people are taking matters into their own hands.

The claim is that 0.18% of vaccinated individuals in Massachusetts experienced breakthrough COVID-19. That’s a bit less than the 99.999% effectiveness CNN reported, but it’s not a whole lot less. It’s not enough to be miserable about.

As a closing thought for a Sunday morning: 1 John 4:8 includes the words “God is love.” The context is that anyone who does not love, does not know God. The kind of love that is God, is unconditional love. Mercy, grace, unmerited favor, undeserved goodness toward people who do not earn it, is God’s love.

It’s easy to be skeptical of that kind of love in a world gone mad with “everyone for themselves” fear. I have read reports of patrons being mean or downright rude to clerks, wait staff, and other service providers. “Nice” is apparently in short supply, but I didn’t see that on my trip. Perhaps “nice” is where you look for it, but if you serve people for a living, it’s much easier to gauge the rudeness factor.

I am skeptical of reports of misery, but I am also skeptical of perpetual skeptics and miserable fools. Jesus modeled meekness (power under control), patience, kindness, and discipline. The root of the word “disciple” is the same root as “discipline.” Believing things without evidence is an undisciplined mental state. Being a skeptic of things for which a large amount of evidence exists is also undisciplined.

As G.K. Chesterton wrote, and I’ve often quoted:

For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

Kindness, and being nice is a wonderful antidote for misery. It is also a vaccine against permanent skepticism. Contrary to reports that America is bathed in misery, conspiracy and bad intentions, I can tell you that America is, in most ways, doing just fine, but we are a bit lost in regaining purpose and discipline.

Be kind, be nice, be meek, and model Jesus.

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