The Evil in this World: I’ve Experienced Evil in the Actions of COVID Deniers
Editor’s Note: FāVS has launched a new series on The Evil in this World. We see it every day in the murder and mayhem that trouble our lives. The world’s great religions have an explanation for this and different ways to describe the battle between good and evil. Those who do not subscribe to a religious tradition have their own perceptions of evil and good. How does your belief system describe both forces and how does it help you cope with the notion that evil exists in this world? Has your faith ever been shaken by the evil around you?
Commentary by Hyphen Parent
In Judaism, the belief is that good and evil exist in all of us. All people have two inclinations – yetzer hara or evil inclination and yetzer hatov or good inclination. We have both inclinations inside us and the free will to decide between the two. As with everything in Judaism, it’s more complicated than that, but the gist of it is we contain both good and evil. We are a mix of both and how we express them is up to us.
“Evil is not a cosmic accident, it does not just happen,” said Laura Kruger, New York-based curator of the Jewish traveling art exhibition EVIL: A Matter of Intent, in a press release. “Evil is not an idea or a concept; it is a deliberate action or inaction. Evil is defined as a selfish act or behavior with the intent to benefit one’s self or one’s interests irrespective of harm to others and without responsibility and remorse.”
I believe I’m seeing far more evil in the world than ever before in my lifetime. There’s a constant barrage of antisemitism, gun violence, racism and homophobia. And not only is there a lack of empathy, but there’s a gleeful viciousness about it from perpetrators. However, for this piece, I’m going to focus specifically on the evil I’m seeing in response to COVID.
Recently, one of my children was hospitalized and very seriously ill. She’s suffering a cascade of health issues that are all a result of long COVID. The responses from others have shown me both evil and comfort.
There are many things that could and have been written about the reactions to COVID. COVID deniers have said and done absolutely disgusting things. Those who accept COVID is real and dangerous, but just don’t care anymore, are behaving in ways that are equally horrifying. I believe I have seen true evil in the disregard and hatred for the elderly and immunocompromised.
I once considered myself an optimist, but not anymore. I was sure the vast majority of people were truly good at heart. The furious and angry responses to COVID have completely destroyed that. I see things so differently now.
The nurses at the hospital told us horrifying stories of the abuse they’ve endured at the hands of COVID deniers. A doctor who saved my daughter’s life vented frustration about the trauma of spending so many hours helping so many COVID patients, missing time with his family and sacrificing so much, only to then have politicians accuse him of profiting off fraud.
Restaurant customers gleefully put their servers at risk and harassed immunocompromised staff to remove masks and then withheld tips when they didn’t.
People at protests loudly argued their right to a haircut or a game of golf is more important than someone else’s right to not die. People we love put our kids at risk, refused to wear masks around us and argued with us when we tried to keep our family safe.
The comments made in speeches, on social media and to our faces have made it clear evil exists. I don’t believe there is any other explanation for the selfishness, obliviousness, hatefulness, callousness and cruelty.
In the past two years, as a result of long COVID, one of my children has suffered from a number of chronic illnesses. Just before Thanksgiving, her symptoms took a life-threatening turn and she wound up hospitalized.
She needed an advocate, so I stayed at her bedside for eleven hours a day. In the early part of her hospital stay, she was very ill and slept most of the day, so I had a substantial amount of time inside my own head reflecting on her experience and the greater experience around us.
My daughter’s experience – the illness and the response from others to her illness made me question any concept of good in the world. This is someone who is a genuinely sweet person. She’s worked to help others in so many ways. She had her life planned out and worked hard to achieve her goals. When she first caught COVID, all of that changed almost instantly.
Since then, her life has been a constant battle of various and ever-changing illnesses, medications and perpetually changing plans. In early 2020, she danced for hours a day. Now, she gets winded walking up the steps. For her little sister’s birthday in March of 2020, my older daughter baked and decorated an elaborate cake from scratch. Now she has a feeding tube and can’t eat or drink anything by mouth.
In the months prior when I was busy running my daughter to so many doctor appointments, people weren’t willing to help. When local friends asked what we needed, I explained meals and help picking up and dropping off the youngest kids were our major issues, but most people wouldn’t help. They insisted we live too far away. That distance was never enough to keep us from showing up for them. For years we made that drive multiple times a day to meet the needs of our community. I served on boards and committees. We worked and volunteered within the community. We could always be relied on to show up, but now that we needed help, we were too far away.
While my daughter suffered in that hospital room, I stared out her window and felt absolutely overwhelmed by the evil around us. I felt alone and abandoned by society, friends, family, the medical community, our religious community and G-d.
With my daughter’s permission, while she was in the hospital, I shared on Facebook to a limited audience a little bit about her medical struggle. Those responses changed everything. When I saw only disappointment and evil around me, it was the work and words of people who showed me something brighter.
So many people reached out in actual tangible ways. Yes, there was evil in the world. Yes, some people we expected to reach out never did, but so many people showed up for us in ways we never expected.
So many people reached out to offer to help. Some friends offered to send gift cards to help with meals (our biggest concern). A group of friends from an old synagogue sent a large gift certificate so we could have meals delivered. I haven’t seen any of those friends in years, but they showed up for us.
Friends from various synagogues reached out to ask how they could help, and then they followed up and did just that. When I was feeling my absolute lowest, a former rabbi that we adored, but hadn’t seen in over a decade, e-mailed to offer support. A friend my daughter worked with at the synagogue came to visit her in the hospital. That offered such a bright spot and break from the monotony of hospital life.
One friend commented on Facebook respecting my anger at G-d, while offering support and prayers for healing and for a doctor who could help. The next day my daughter was assigned a new doctor who listened and offered actual solutions. Meal deliveries were arranged so that one friend who lives near us gathered meals from others at our synagogue and dropped them off herself.
I’d only fairly recently reconnected with one of my high school best friends. She sent things for my daughter and sent me a T-shirt that I wore repeatedly to the hospital. It seems like such a small thing, but at a time when I felt terrified and lonely, looking down at that shirt evoked happy nostalgia and made me feel loved.
One of my sisters made the two-hour drive to drop off Thanksgiving food for me including all my favorites. Another high school friend sent a care package filled with trinkets, candy and a book. My best friend conferred with me to order a stuffed cat that most resembled my daughter’s beloved real-life cat, which she missed horribly while away from him in the hospital. My daughter kept that stuffed cat with her at all times, and the nurses and doctors all loved it, too.
One of my daughters stayed home a day longer during Thanksgiving break to bring her brother and sister to school so we wouldn’t have to worry. A friend in England gave me a gift subscription to a newsletter from a rabbi I love. Through the entire ordeal, a friend I’ve only ever known online, and whose children also have similar medical experiences, was there every step of the way to listen and offer knowledge, suggestions and support.
Showing up for each other is at the very heart of my understanding of G-d. I’ve written extensively on what I call the sacredness of showing up.
In my first article in the series on the importance of showing up for each other, I wrote:
“More often than not, there’s little to nothing we can do to heal the bodies of those we love. We are their friends or their family, not their doctors. We lack the training necessary for that. We may, however, be able to help them heal their souls. Sure we can pray for them, but we can do so much more. We can cook for them. We can visit them. We can laugh with them. We can give them a safe place to escape to. We can clean for them. We can use our talents and time to find something to do for those around us…. In Judaism, one thing often said to a family in mourning is, ‘May G-d console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.’ Though there were no prophetic visions or burning bushes, we felt G-d’s comfort through the actions of other people.”
My faith in G-d, Torah and others was absolutely shaken by the evil I’ve witnessed. To be entirely honest, I’m still not on speaking terms with Hashem. The evil in the world has been overwhelming. I’m exhausted and crushed by how cruel people can be, but the comfort provided in and through the community provides some consolation. Torah often compares evil to darkness. Through the compassion of others, I found a spark of hope.
Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized, and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.