The great author, philosopher, and apologist C.S. Lewis said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
But changing in the way that Lewis describes first requires realizing that we’re beyond a beginning and need a change. It’s a self-awareness that the current direction is wrong and in need of pivoting.
The most common way of measuring this kind of feeling in the wrong is the right track/wrong track poll of the country. The RealClearPolitics average shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. Only one in four thinks we’re on the right track.
It’s an amorphous question that the respondent can define any way they like, but it’s hard to question that most Americans have a growing sense of dread regarding the direction of the country.
But those polls are an aggregation of individual feeling. COVID-19 and the continuing protests challenge how the government responded, but how we each responded at the beginning. We can’t change that response. We can only start from the moment and go forward to change an ending.
In the later part of March, we learned that the CDC and FDA had messed up the testing element of our response to the novel coronavirus. That was why we had to institute nationwide shutdowns — we could not test for or catch the virus, which threatened the entire healthcare system. That was our beginning on COVID-19, and there’s no going back to change that.
Now our testing capacity is growing on a nearly daily basis, but the positivity rate is increasing with it, indicating a spreading virus across the nation. The country has paralyzed itself in response between polarized factions on everything from reopening to wearing a cloth mask. Where we were once gripped with fear of the virus, now an angry complacency has taken its place.
There are many parties you can blame for why this reality has come to bear, but that won’t impact the outcome. And it doesn’t matter who is president in this situation, or what political party leads. People would still divide along partisan lines if Joe Biden were president. If Trump is not a cause of our national problems, but rather a symptom, then it also follows Biden is no cure.
It’s a similar story for the protests. There was a genuine wrong in George Floyd’s death. But we’re here at this moment because we’ve refused to take action in the past. It’s the same kind of story with the testing debacle. Our institutions and leaders failed in the moment and the past, which brings us to the current moment. We’re trying to address wrongs that are tearing at the partisan threads of our national identity.
The beginnings of these events are gone. We can’t change them or our response, and we don’t know the ending at this stage. We don’t live in a deterministic world of final causes where it’s impossible to change our future. That’s the essence of the fears pandered around by the darkest doom and gloomers on the virus. The white progressives who push concepts like white fragility claim little change is possible due to how people are born.
If we truly lived in a deterministic reality, it would be impossible to condemn anyone for their actions. If you can’t choose by free will, how can anyone condemn you for taking action?
There’s no right or wrong on what happened in that reality. Nor would it make sense to change anything, since determinism, the opposite of free will, disposes of any notion we’re capable of change. If the world is deterministic, then, looking at our beginning on the virus and these protests, we appear doomed.
The virus, protests, and more can have real solutions if we choose to pursue them. But doing that requires taking a step back, acknowledging where we’ve failed, and purposing to shift things. It’s not a stationary action, waiting upon the arc of history to carry us there.
And just as the country’s mood on right or wrong tracks reflects individual actions, so does the solutions towards our current problems. These issues require more than state action; they need personal responsibility to take charge of fixing these issues.
But doing that requires change, on both the individual and national level. We can’t get past these issues unless we act as individuals, creating a group success. That’s how we can move forward and change the ending of these stories.