Higher Living Reflections

The Day the Earth Stood Still

From the time when I began to read, stories and poems, especially song lyrics, that resonate most are those that “speak to me.” They are usually character or theme driven. In them, the protagonist(s) address(es) some essential truth about life in general or that is personally relevant to me.

For others who similarly look at life through the lens of literature, stories in the sci-fi genre that deal with killer strains might come to mind in context of the situation that we find ourselves captive in. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton, perhaps.

For me, it’s the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still. The movie stars Michael Rennie as the alien Klaatu, Patricia Neal as Helen Benson, and Sam Jaffe, who portrays an Albert Einstein look-alike scientist. To demonstrate he means business, Klaatu causes all the power in the world to go out. Lights go out, elevators stop, and cars stall. It’s an eerie scene, conveying an awesome power beyond human scale that evokes a sense of helplessness.

Re-watching the scene in which Helen struggles to relay the message from Klaatu to the robot Gort to stop him from destroying the earth still causes goosebumps. She is terrified, but she heroically overcomes her fear and acts courageously. “Klaatu barada nikto,” she says as Gort prepares a laser beam to vaporize her.

Helplessness in the face of an immense power. It’s what many feel now in the face of this scourge.

Many can and do step up and contribute, but only scientists and the medical community can engage offensively by finding a vaccine, and only necessary workers and able-bodied volunteers can be soldiers on the front line: Medical personnel primarily as well as millions who provide ancillary necessary services such as supermarket and grocery store workers, gas station attendants, power company technicians, and more. Others step up by volunteering to assist the countless in need by delivering life-sustaining food and medicines. Their courage in the face of a deadly virus goes beyond description.

The rest of us are asked to do one thing: Nothing.

Except it isn’t nothing; it’s critical. Keeping yours and yourself safe and healthy by practicing social distancing, for one.

It might seem then, in the macro sense, the rest of us are playing defensive roles. And that can conjure a sense of helplessness which can be debilitating. For it seems all we can do is to stand by as the drama unfolds.

However, when one thinks it through, everyone can play an active role in combating this. The first, as I write above, is by keeping yourself physically healthy. Closely related is keeping yourself mentally and emotionally healthy by staying engaged in whatever capacity you can. Keep in mind, by the way, mental and emotional health, while related, are not the same. It’s the difference between what you think and how you feel about those thoughts.

Presidential scholar and historian Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, likens our current national situation to that of the Brits in WW II when the Luftwaffe was raining destruction down on England. Everyone was a potential victim. One of my favorite lines from history is that of the then Queen Elizabeth. After Windsor Castle was bombed and she and King George VI barely escaped, she said, “I am glad we have been bombed. Now we can look the East End in the eye.”

Humans are social creatures. Our earliest Homo sapiens ancestors realized that from the start. They also learned that fear can be debilitating if not overcome with rationality and courageous action, as Helen demonstrates in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Two lessons we can collectively learn from this: our vulnerability and our inter-connectedness. To overcome fear and worry, it requires mutual cooperation and engagement beyond the self. That is something almost everyone can do. E.g., To pick up the phone, to send an email, to mail a letter – remember those? – or a card.

And a third: You’re not helpless.

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Angela M Skiffen
    March 25, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Excellent advice….Queen Elizabeth is one class act!’s!! She has always shown true courage in the face of adversity. This brings to mind two other famous quotes….FDR after the bombing of Pearl Harbor…”We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” JFK….”Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
    The greatest generation fought the demons of that time. They did what their country asked of them. We must also do that. Stay home. Take care of those friends and neighbors who cannot if you are able. Pray. Meditate. Send loving, positive energies out into the world. Find your true inner self. Malice toward none. Namaste.. Amen..

    • Reply
      Jerry Fabyanic
      March 25, 2020 at 12:52 pm

      Well said, sister. Love your last line. Lincoln! The rest of it: “Charity for all.”

  • Reply
    Melanie Mulhall
    March 25, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    Beautifully said, Jerry.

    • Reply
      Jerry Fabyanic
      March 25, 2020 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks, Melanie. Hoping you’re well. When this subsides, we need to reconnect.

  • Reply
    Dawn Cerra
    March 25, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    Remember that to do nothing is doing something. May I invite others to follow you? ♥ Dawn ☼

    • Reply
      Jerry Fabyanic
      March 25, 2020 at 6:05 pm

      Hey Dawn, I would be pleased. Either send them to this site where they can sign up or email me with their addresses, and I will enter it. Either way works. Thanks! Stay safe in Buffalo!

  • Reply
    Denee Schenck
    March 25, 2020 at 3:17 pm

    Thank you for the reminder, we can do this! Also, thank you for the recommendation “Sapiens”. That was a great read. When is your next book being published?

    • Reply
      Jerry Fabyanic
      March 25, 2020 at 6:00 pm

      Hey Denee – so glad you enjoyed Sapiens. Harari is brilliant. I’m partially through his “21 Lessons for the 21st century.” Brilliant mind. Next book, TBD. Was off and winging when this came about. So, that writing is on hold. Thanks for asking, and I’ll keep you posted when it comes to light. Keep safe and healthy.

  • Reply
    Jim Schmidt
    March 25, 2020 at 5:16 pm

    Jerry,
    Didn’t until I just now read your piece of how much I’ve missed you and your words. Don’t be a stranger, we need this now as much as we ever have.
    Peace Brother,
    Jim

    • Reply
      Jerry Fabyanic
      March 25, 2020 at 6:03 pm

      Thanks, Jim. It’s one small way I can contribute. I promise to keep writing. Hoping you continue to be safe and healthy. peace – j

  • Reply
    Bonnie McCune
    March 25, 2020 at 8:40 pm

    Hi, thanks for the referral. I’m going to get the newer version of the movie as soon as libraries re-open. I think we also need to keep a sense of proportion, despite writer Douglas Adams’ advice “the last thing we need in a universe of this size is a sense of proportion.” We don’t blink at deaths from our never-ending wars, disease, domestic violence. But we’re in a panic from a germ. We have almost no control over anything, why are we so flummoxed by COViD? Jerry, keep on keeping on.

    • Reply
      Jerry Fabyanic
      March 26, 2020 at 11:59 am

      Hey Bonnie, Much to consider for sure. And to write about. I will do as you say, keep on keeping on. It’s what I do best. Stay healthy and give Marty my best.

  • Reply
    Donna
    March 27, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    Hi Jerry- Thank you for the insights in this blog.. I hope you keep writing your blog- we all need more connections now.

    Some random thoughts on the movie, one of my favorites. I watch it every year or so. When I first saw it, as a girl, I loved the character Helen, smart, quick and brave. Her relationship with Klaatu was so refreshing and her rejection of Tom was something to cheer.

    Gort as impersonal and powerful danger is relevant to today (your blog). Insights-humans destroy the instrument of peace out of fear and the narrow minded fear of the other.

    A favorite line- “I like you, Mr. Carpenter. You’re a real screwball.”
    Stay safe,
    Donna

  • Reply
    Jason Steinle
    March 29, 2020 at 12:07 am

    Hello Jerry.
    Great article. I agree that while the collective message is “Stay Home” to “Do My Part” you hit upon the unspoken truth of “keeping yourself physically healthy. Closely related is keeping yourself mentally and emotionally healthy” I think this is an equally important front line move. It will lessen the load on our medical community by fewer positive cases and less severe symptoms (fewer ER visits/hospitalizations) of those that are Covid-19 positive. I am seeing my patients take an active role in their health and well-being like never before in my 20 years of practice. This may be the “silver lining” that comes from the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic. Right now the best offense is having a strong defense. A strong immune system (to stay healthy) and healthy nervous system (to cope with the stress) are critical.
    Thanks for all you do, Jerry.
    Jason Steinle, DC

  • Reply
    Karen Trench
    March 30, 2020 at 8:44 pm

    Beautifully written, Jerry! I loved that movie when I was young, and it’s still one of my favorite Sci-Fi flicks. As a young girl, it was refreshing to see such a strong female character (Helen) do the right thing even at her own peril. Powerful example of courage under fire! I read a post somewhere, maybe on Facebook that said something to the effect that in WWII, our people were asked to go to war to save our country and protect our freedoms. Now, all Americans are being asked to do, is to shelter in place…basically to sit at home on our couches. A bit of perspective here. And speaking of changed perspectives, I enjoyed learning how Queen Elizabeth changed hers after having survived the Luftwaffe bombing. Perhaps if we can look at this virus as a HUGE teachable moment for humanity, a test of sorts–on all levels, we will come away knowing that we learned many valuable lessons…that we all must DO BETTER. And we (including our precious Mother, giver of all life) will BE BETTER people living on a better, healthier planet…collectively as ONE breathe. We can only hope and pray.

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