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This Side of Paradise

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May 2020

Some things happen in the most interesting ways. In the 19th century, a laborer cut his jumpsuit in half to keep cool on a hot workday. It’s not altogether clear which half he used, but the idea caught on. In the early 20th century, the Navy issued something looking like the top half as its standard undergarment. The garment lacked a name until 1920, when in This Side of Paradise, author F. Scott Fitzgerald supplied one: T-shirt.

The shirts remained pretty nondescript until the 1950s, when two actors—Marlon Brando and James Dean—turned plain white T’s into statements of rebellion. Before too long, savvy entrepreneurs saw the profit in turning T-shirts into billboards. Disney featured his characters. Companies began to show off their products. Rock bands displayed their logos. Today, there’s not much that can’t, or won’t, be put on a T-shirt.   They have become expressions of fashion, beliefs, and preferences. They brag of our accomplishments, things like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, or just surviving a cold and snowy winter.

So we can be virtually assured that in the hopefully not-too-distant future, we’ll see a T-shirt saying: “I SURVIVED COVID-19” with a graphic of the pointy virus. This hasn’t been our world’s first pandemic. The 1918-19 Spanish flu, an avian variety, infected 500 million people worldwide—around one-third of the earth’s population. Of the 50 million deaths, about 675,000 were in the U.S. In the late 1950s, influenza arrived from East Asia. This Asian flu, another bird variety, killed 1.1 million worldwide, 116,000 here. In 1968, another avian flu killed similar numbers at home and abroad. In 2009, a novel flu emerged that, because of their lack of immunity, hit middle-agers and young people hardest. CDC reported almost 61 million cases in a single year and almost 12,500 deaths here.

It’s difficult to feel historical pain; it is just not part of our lives. But COVID-19 is. And the pain from it runs deep because of the treatment needed to combat it. Wisely, our leaders have understood the importance of slowing transmission. We needed to flatten the curve—and fast—for we are a country of over 330 million people. Even with all our resources, our medical system could never handle what happened in 1918. So we were urged, and then ordered, to stay home. So far, it seems to be working—slowly.

But we are experiencing a mix of feelings that we never really thought imaginable. One is the isolation, even the feeling of imprisonment. Staying at home means that for the most part, our location does not change. We remotely work at home, but when we end our workdays, we’re still at home. We’ve temporarily lost the feeling of coming back, if only for the evenings and weekends. It’s like being marooned on an island; it might be Tahiti, but we’re still marooned with no way off. We can’t even take a walk in a local park, for many have been closed. So are the shopping malls and the stores we’d frequent just as a change of pace. Until further notice, we can’t go far. In a country where mobility is prized, it’s difficult to endure.

We also acutely feel the fear. It’s the fear of contracting or dying from the virus. It’s the fear that follows a job loss—what will happen if we can’t pay the mortgage or rent, if health care is needed, if a car breaks down, if food runs low? For others, it’s the fear from helplessly watching their now-closed businesses fail for lack of customers. It’s fear that can morph in many ways, not unlike a virus itself, which makes it so uncontrollable and threatening.

And perhaps we mostly feel the emptiness. We are social people, yet cut off from the fullness of society. Our schools are empty, our kids separated from both teachers and friends. Our churches are empty. We celebrate Mass or other services via video, with no one to join us in praise and prayer. If we do still work, we are often working by ourselves. Our roads are empty, which is generally good but for the fact that there’s nowhere to go. We cannot celebrate and share with family and friends. We cannot even be with others as they mourn the loss of loved ones—or as they die themselves.

As COVID-19 has once again proven, living can get mighty difficult. So maybe it’s good that if Coronavirus had to hit, it hit during Lent, and now Easter-time. Christ knew every bit of isolation and imprisonment that we do. He knew all of our fears—and even worse ones. He knew the emptiness of being betrayed, denied, and abandoned. He totally emptied Himself on the Cross out of true love for us. Then as His crowning feat, He emptied the Tomb.   That is where He wants us to look to—the empty Tomb. Christ always wins. He tells us to trust Him and not be afraid. This, too, shall pass.

During this time of struggle, we have been blessed with some truly remarkable happenings. Who would have imagined that the country would unite so well in flattening the curve? People are staying at home. They are social distancing and wearing protective gear. People are thinking of others. Employers are trying to pay those employees who have been furloughed. One business owner pulled money off store walls to pay workers. People are showing genuine concern in ways not previously shown, even if they can only do so remotely. It bodes so well for our future. We can come back from Covid-19 thankful for the experience, better and stronger than before.

Imagine what can happen if we unite against what has effectively been a 47-year, man-made pandemic: legal abortion. It has senselessly robbed us of millions people, none of whom did anything to warrant their fate. If our precautions against the virus tell us anything, they tell us just how precious life is. Shouldn’t we realize that it is just as precious to those who can’t yet form the words to tell us? God gave them the gift of life, and we need to protect them. For with all life’s difficulties, they, too, deserve to live it with us here—on this side of Paradise.


Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

© Paul V. Esposito 2020. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Visit us at and on Facebook.

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