I spent nearly 6 years as an altar boy in Fairmount, North Dakota. During that time, I helped to marry and bury many friends and neighbors in the community.
During those years I remember Father Schuh reminding me, often, about the infallibility of the Pope.
A concept that I found fascinating.
How cool would it be to never be wrong?
No matter what you said or did would ever be incorrect.
Even if what you said or did…was incorrect.
Decades removed from Fairmount, North Dakota and my youthful ignorance about the true extent and scope of the Pope’s infallibility, I find myself with my own family struggling to make the right decisions amid a pandemic.
In March, as the fear and darkness of COVID-19 began to consume nearly every aspect of life my family, like many American families, withdrew into our home, closed the door, and began to ride out the viral tsunami.
Scientists became front page news, the talking heads on cable television and the voices of knowledge and wisdom on the radio.
Before long we were shoving aside politicians and others who weren’t the scientists because, it was emphasized, we should trust science and not politics.
That many of the politicians cannot, and should not, be trusted is certainly a matter that has been debated since the beginning of humanity.
Science became the touchstone for virtually every aspect of our lives.
Before long the politicians, as they are wont to do, figured out that if people wouldn’t listen to them, they would listen to the scientists.
And, if they didn’t like what the “Scientist of the Day” had to say they went out and found another one that would say what they wanted them to say.
Scientists were everywhere talking about science.
Which, of course, is what a Scientist does.
The new celebrity is the Scientist.
So much so that the nation’s “top” Scientist Anthony Fauci humorously clamored for, and got, Brad Pitt to portray him, on all places, “Saturday Night Live.”
Scientists are, of course, people, too.
They know that this is their time.
Today, Scientists and their science are the ones, allegedly, directing the decisions of elected officials and others when it comes to their policies.
We are hearing it more and more, as well, on Social Media, as a new divide has been created in America.
Repeatedly we are told to simply trust “Science.”
Our own Governor insists that decisions he is making today are based on the best “Science” available to him.
Social media is filled with demands that we should listen to science in everything we do when it comes to COVID-19.
Just trust science.
While it has taken me less time than it took me to figure out that the Pope was not, on all things, infallible, here’s the hard truth about science.
Science is not infallible.
It never was. Never has been. Never will be.
The whole point behind science is to be wrong before it is right.
And, science changes. The outcome of science changes. The findings of science changes.
Science is not infallible.
Science can also be manipulated, exaggerated, exploited, misused, mismanaged and yes, it can also be wrong.
Which isn’t to say that those insisting that science should judge our response to COVID-19 are completely wrong.
But they are also not completely right.
Anymore than elected officials – and average Americans – are as they try to figure out when life can return to normal.
Whatever normal will be in the short-term or the long-term.
I have a Daughter whose immunity is genetically compromised. I have brother-in-law with disabilities who lives in a group home. An 88-year old mother.
I also have a 19-year-old son who just completed his second of semester while sitting in his bedroom, and wife, who along with me, have been working from home for longer than I can recall.
My wife and I have difficult choices ahead for our children, particularly our Daughter.
In all ways other than a compromised immune system she is a healthy, active, bright, and energetic young woman.
From the beginning of COVID-19 all of us, including her, have been mindful that the choices we made about how to protect ourselves could have a direct impact on her own health.
My Son worried that moving home from his college dorm might be a dangerous act until we assured him that the safest place for him, and his sister, was at home with his parents.
We cannot keep our Daughter locked in our home forever. Nor will we be able to keep our Son locked in our home forever.
It is not possible and for our children it is simply not the right thing to do.
My Daughter must be able to go out into the world. She must exist in the world. She must live in the world.
In the short-term she will have to do so in conditions that will require her to do things that are not second nature to her, or most other American children of any age.
She will need to wear a mask. Stand six feet apart from people. Constantly wash her hands.
And, perhaps most challenging for her, not hug those friends and family that she is always delighted to see.
My hope is that those around her will do the same.
I hope Americans who can and are able to will wear a mask. Stand six feet apart from people. Constantly wash their hands.
Because, for now, that is about the only thing that science seems to be able to agree on that is going to keep the vast majority of us safe.
With the creation of a vaccine to prevent infections, and medicines and medical procedures to help those recover who are infected, science will eventually develop the tools humanity needs to beat this pandemic.
And, hopefully, the next one that comes in our lifetime.
I can’t keep my kids at home forever.
There isn’t a Scientist, a Pope, a Governor, or a President who can tell me with 100% assurance how much longer is long enough.
So, here’s what I know we, as a family, will be doing:
- We will assess the risk of the actions we will take over the days and weeks ahead on our personal health and safety.
- As we do this assessment, we will also discuss what impact our own actions could have on the safety and well-being of others
- We will do our best not to judge the choices and decisions of others to remain at home, or to go back into the world, as other families try to navigate the future ahead of them
- As we have tried to do from the beginning, we will try to find the most current information available and try to be wise consumers of it to make decision and choices that we, as a family, believe are the best ones for ourselves without compromising the health and safety of others.
Here is what we won’t do.
- We won’t be bullied or shamed by those who insist we stay in our homes because if we don’t it will threaten the lives and safety of someone else in society.
- Nor will we be bullied or shamed by those who insist we get out of our homes because if we don’t, we are nothing but lemmings doing the bidding of an overly burdensome government.
The Pope is not infallible in all things.
Science is not infallible in all things.
Politicians and the media are most assuredly not infallible in all things.
The only thing I will trust to be infallible right now are parents who will make decisions and choices that not only don’t threaten the safety and security of their own family – but don’t threaten the safety and security of their fellow Americans family.
I am confident that if all of us behave and act accordingly there’s not a pandemic in the world that can beat us.
That truth is infallible.