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Over the last few decades, I sometimes remember upon awakening that I was chanting in a group or by myself in my sleep as part of an intense and intricate dream. Perhaps this isn't that surprising after over 50 years of doing it twice a day. However, last night I took it to new heights (pun alert). While tossing and turning in bed, I was chanting as I slowly rose through the roof of our home higher and higher until at 50,000 feet I could see the curvature of the earth…the beautiful arc of the horizon. Everything below looked magnificent but rather insignificant. A metaphor, I suspect, for the importance of keeping worldly events that are out of my control in their proper perspective.

Speaking of perspective, the fact that millions of people believe protecting others by wearing a mask is a question of individual choice and that the coronavirus is a diabolical plot confirms an assertion by François-Marie Arouet’s that, “Common sense is not so common.“

Arouet was known by his nom de plume, Voltaire (1694 – 1778). He was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his advocacy of freedom of speech and religion, as well as the separation of church and state. A man of reason, he loathed fanaticism, superstition, and idolatry.

Voltaire produced works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, histories, and scientific expositions. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets. His most famous work was Candide, first published in 1759. It was assigned reading in one of my college classes. To be completely ‘candid’, I barely remember anything about it!

As a life-long avid consumer of science fiction, I was surprised to learn that Voltaire’s Plato’s Dream’s super beings and Le Micromégas with its visiting aliens were among the earliest examples of this type of literature. I’m fairly certain Voltaire had a time-traveling device that enabled him to visit the year 2020 which gave him tremendous insight into the social and political conditions of his own 18th century. Here are just two of his quotes that make the case for the unfortunate universality of the dark side of human nature:

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” and, “Prejudices are what fools use for reason.”

Lies and hatred are tactics used by dictatorial leaders since time immemorial (which according to is used to refer to a point of time in the past that was so long ago that people had no knowledge or memory of it. Which begs the question, if no one knew of something, how can we know how far back it existed?) But, as usual, I digress…

I do recall that in the satire Candide Voltaire refutes the optimistic view of life that would claim that everything is as it should be and just as the supreme being intended. Instead, I think he would appreciate these words by Michelle Obama: “You may not always have a comfortable life. And you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once. But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”

Which I take to mean that while remaining aware of the political and corona-reality around us, we should manage our despair, refuse to fall into patterns of hatred and, where possible, take constructive action with confidence in a better tomorrow.

Lest I get too serious, Voltaire also opined, “Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.” So, I’ll end by wishing you good books and uplifting music along with an elevated place above the earth where the only reason for a mask is to breathe!

Thanks for reading and please stay safe!

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