AN OLD STORY ABOUT STUBBORNNESS

Lucinda Penhallow and Romney Penhallow were cousins but not too closely related to marry. However, they shared a family trait of stubbornness. When they swore to do something, or not, they did it or didn’t — no matter what. They were meant to marry 15 years earlier but they had quarreled and vowed never to speak to each other again until the other one apologized. No one remembered what the offense was. Lucinda continued to wear her engagement ring and neither of them had thoughts of other partners.

In the end Lucinda is going home alone at night from a wedding because of missing her ride. She runs into Romney, he walks her home, and on the way he has to carry her across a small stream, but loses his footing and falls in. “You damned fool!” cries Lucinda. After a bout of anger, the two of them begin to laugh. The spell is broken and they marry. This is a Lucy Maud Montgomery story from “The Chronicles of Avonlea”.

The last time I read it, I had just seen the 1948 movie of Ingrid Bergman as “Joan of Arc,” and Tyrone Power in “Captain from Castile” (1947) in which he heroically refuses to betray his cause even when his entire family, including his little sister, were killed in an effort to force him. These drastic tales were meant to echo the heroism of the French Resistance during WWII and I got the point, which was much more serious than the tale of the Penhallow stubbornness.

Thus I’ve paid close attention to things like Oppositional Defiance Disorder and the scientific premise that when trapped and in danger, a creature has three options: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Predators fight, prey flees, and reptiles freeze. I add another “F” which is “Fawn.” This is when you get mad at the dog who covers you with kisses and that makes you give up violence. Or you flatter and praise an abusive partner so they won’t hit you.

This is relevant when thinking about why people refuse to get a vaccination for Covid. They are making the choice of lizards or possoms — they’re freezing in time, refusing to change their minds as though they were Penhallows defending a point of pride that’s part of their character. Secretly, threats and bribes don’t work because these people are terrified and refuse to do anything unknown, untested, or different from what they have done before. Better a known evil than a unknown fate.

The terror is entirely justified. Covid is killing millions around the planet. We have videos of the solar system throwing rocks at us and we know what meteors have done in the past. Global warming is flooding us and cooking us as though we were pasta. The warming seas are changing their chemical compositions in ways that prevent the formation of basic elements of living cells, so that the gaseous atmosphere of the planet will prevent life. We’ll stifle, unable to breathe.

So some of these folks fawn on dictators who shout that they will save your kind. There’s no place to run to and many are fighting. But especially in the red places of the US, freezing in place seems like a smart option. Actually, it’s more like paralysis.

The safety net for children, elderly and disabled have been diminished. The kind of work people are used to doing is no longer wanted but the new kind of work means classes and electronic equipment that they can’t afford — maybe there aren’t any around there anyway. The schools are underfunded and old-fashioned — kids are so defiant that no one wants to teach. Food is low quality. Housing is impossible. Medical care is distant and seized by the pandemic. The majority religion doesn’t account for all this but forbids suicide. Drugs only work temporarily. The cops are violent.

There are simply no good options. Fifty Repubs block every helpful federal intervention. They will go down with their ship, but they’re old and resentful anyway.

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Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.