Come, let us reason together
It is interesting to see what is selling like ‘hot cakes’ on Amazon because of the pandemic. Beyond face masks, disinfectants, and toilet paper, there is a classic book that has jumped up on the charts: “The Decameron.”
Written in the middle of the 14th century as the Bubonic Plague decimated the population of Europe, “The Decameron” is a satirical and allegorical collection of stories by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio. Constructed as a series of stories within a story, the narrative follows seven young women and three young men who take refuge in a secluded villa outside of Florence in order to escape the Black Death. During ten evenings of their stay, each of the travelers takes turns as a storyteller to pass the time. Their stories relate tales of love, both happy and tragic, examples of the power of fortune and human will, and exhibitions of virtue, cleverness, and trickery.
Boccaccio’s work has been seen are one of the best examples of literature from the early Renaissance. Both Chaucer and Shakespeare lifted a tale or two from Boccaccio.
I remember a trip to Italy where I made certain to visit Florence. Then one Sunday I went into the countryside around Florence, and I saw the beautiful town of Fiesole—where the villa in the Decameron was situated.
It is easy to understand why many people are now interested in “The Decameron.” However, a modern version of Boccaccio’s work might be about ten young people fleeing New York City and going to East Hampton out on Long Island. There they decide to pass the time by telling each other about the new TV series or movies they hope to pitch to Netflix, Disney, or Amazon.
Relating to all of this was a recent column by Ginia Bellafante of The New York Times. The headline of her column reads: THE RICH HAVE A CORONAVIRUS CURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Ginia writes, “When fake rumors inspired a run on toilet paper, the 1 percent made a panicked exodus to their second homes…Well-off New Yorkers were going to go about the business of combating the coronavirus differently, with more than fortitude and Purell, because they had a powerful inoculant: secondary real estate..on Long Island, in Connecticut, (and) on Cape Cod.”
Ginia also has spoken about the difference between professional people who can work from home during the pandemic compared to others who have lost their paychecks or have to take real risks to deliver food, and other things. She also mentions workers in factories who have not been well protected during COVID-19. Of course, there are also the medical workers, EMTs, police, and firefighters who often have not been fully protected in recent weeks.
The reason I bring all of this up is that I believe the pandemic has really shown us some of our society’s serious warts and blemishes. As I watch my daughter, Rachel, go to a good online school program, I know how fortunate we are to have been blessed with a good local school system and good internet connections (and many computers). Even my five year old daughter, Therese, is going to her dance class and TOTs (which is like Zumba for pre-schoolers) on Zoom. My worst situation concerning food has been running out of caffeine-free Diet Coke. My job and cash flow have been stable. I realize how many people have faced a very different situation. Several people have called me for prayer as it has been difficult to get needed tests for the Corona virus. For others, their business have been closed, and they don’t know what the future looks like. Meanwhile, I have received class from people who won’t see a paycheck for at best several more weeks.
I do not claim to know the answers to all of these social problems, and reasonable people can disagree on goals and tactics to solve problems. But I hear the prophet Isaiah saying to us, “Come let us reason together.” I also think that it is fair to say that almost all of the great enlightened masters from the worlds spiritual traditions had a concern for those who are marginalized in society. To give two examples, Jesus definitely showed deep concern for the marginalized in his society, and he had a very broad definition of who is our neighbor. Islam is based on five pillars. One of these five pillars is “zakat” (i.e., charity), and it is right up there with prayer.
Like the ten young people in “The Decameron,” we will come to a time when we can go back to normal life (But it will take much more than 10 days, and the new normal could be very different from what we knew before). I hope that we will remember the warts and blemishes that were so noticeable during the pandemic. I hope we will also remember the many “angles of our better nature” that were also visible during this time period.
I would suggest that all of us during our times of prayer and meditation ask: What is mine to do? How can I be part of the solution, and not part of the problem?
I would also ask that we find new ways to make the prophet Isaiah’s call a reality: “Come let us reason together.”