Virus of the Soul

heart balloon

Heart Balloon. Photo by Callen Harty.

Sitting at home reading about tens of thousands of people in my country dying of Covid-19 is hard enough. Knowing that countless more will die in the coming months is even more difficult. But reading about ignorant and hateful acts by my fellow countrymen is far more disheartening and honestly far more frightening than a deadly virus. It is a virus of the soul and I am more confident than ever that the soul of America is lost.

While we have achieved greatness in many ways, we also have a long history of horrible people and horrible acts, starting with the genocide of Native Americans, and continuing with the enslavement of African people, the exploitation of resources all over the world, and the destruction of the environment and anything else that stands in the way of profits and more profits. Money is our god and anything that stands in the way of accumulating more of it is expendable and we’ll go to war with anyone to defend that god.

This is on my mind because the news stories that are the scariest today are not about the virus, but about fellow citizens who have no love, empathy, or concern for others. Today I read a report out of Michigan about a security guard who was killed after telling a young woman she was required to wear a face mask to enter a store. Hours later family members came back to the store and he was shot and killed after a heated argument over the situation.

The coronavirus isn’t killing us as much as it is exposing us to the horrors of who we are as a nation.

Shortly after digesting the Michigan story I saw another one about a 79-year old man in Wisconsin who was killed over an argument about a parking space. A parking space! A person’s life is worth no more than a parking space? We are so lazy or so entitled or so–whatever was in the mind of the killer–that another man’s life becomes that meaningless? This country is in more trouble from the disintegration of morals and empathy than anything else that threatens us right now.

Also today there was a report that right-wing activist Ammon Bundy in a speech in Idaho blamed the Jews for the Holocaust, another man who was told he had to wear a face mask in a store in Michigan wiped his nose on the employee’s shirt in protest, and in California a man went shopping and instead of wearing a regular mask donned a Ku Klux Klan hood.

We are a sick country. Somewhere along the line we lost the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors and returned to the Civil War circumstance of brother against brother. We lost our sense of compassion, of putting ourselves in the shoes of others, and we have forgotten how to compromise. We have also forgotten how to sacrifice for the good of all because we have not had to do so for decades. We have lost the ability to love one another because we are all so damned self-assured that our political positions are right and those who disagree with us are all idiots or evil. We have self-quarantined our hearts.

I wish I had an answer, but I am at a loss. What I know is that we need to find our souls again and we need to learn how to love one another again. This is not an answer that science can find for us. It is not up to government. The politicians are even more divided than the rest of us. It isn’t even an answer religion can find for us. It has to come from deep within each of us. We desperately need a spiritual reawakening and we need to open our hearts to the possibilities and the power of love. Simply put, we are a lost and doomed nation if we do not.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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