The Pandemic of Human Nature Isn’t Over (Yet)

And the Actual Pandemic Is Pretty Bad, Too.

CJ Green / 6.22.21

In her newest song, “Solar Power,” Lorde refers to herself as “like a prettier Jesus.” I suppose she’s alluding to her long tangle of brown hair, but perhaps, too, she’s saying she’s preparing to be crucified. Okay, fine. I’ll get my hammer.

The video is like the worst of Instagram. It features a crowd of slim, healthy twenty-somethings dancing on a nondescript beach. Lorde scampers about, dressed like the sun and proclaiming the end of suffering. “Forget all the tears you’ve cried,” she sings in that slippery register between celebration and command. “It’s over, over, over / It’s a new state of mind.”

To be clear, I’m one of the last people who wants to crucify Lorde. Ever since she was a surly teen talking it up on the tennis court like yeah, I have been a fan. Her first album was the kind that you could put in your ears at 3AM while finishing a theology paper: loud, brooding, existential. Her second stirred a similar affection: it’s fun, but the kind of fun you might have in the midst of everything going wrong, a sort of crack-up. Very relatable — to me.

That’s why this new piece of work is so jarring. The song makes no direct mention of the pandemic, though it seems designed to become a kind of 2021 summer anthem. It’s about going outside after a long winter indoors. It’s about the power of the sun to revive one’s spirits. It fits right alongside Whole Foods’ marketing about how “summer took a year off, but now it’s back.”

But it feels like the wrong time to sing that hardship is “over, over, over.” A year and a half into the pandemic, we have begun trying to tell the story of it, and one popular version is of triumph. It’s as if the pandemic weren’t a major disintegration of everything we thought we could put our faith in but a mere detour. Or maybe we use the language of incarceration: we “did time,” and now we’re free. One celebrity noted recently that, in isolation, “[e]veryone I know has gone through an internal transformation.”

This all sounds a little desperate to me. Right now, as R-J recently said on the Mockingcast, “There is a tremendous amount of pressure to be happy.” The number of internal transformations I have witnessed is none. When it comes to the effects of the pandemic, everyone I know is either annoyed, tired, struggling like never before with alcoholism, or barely surviving an eating disorder that was cultivated in isolation. Relationships have been strained by distance. The pandemic of human nature, at least, is as viral as ever. And the actual pandemic is pretty bad, too.

At the New York Times, Spencer Bokat-Lindell recently penned a perceptive op-ed urging readers to stop saying “post-pandemic”: “The coronavirus may be receding in New York and Toronto and Tel Aviv, but for much of the world it is a more fearsome threat than ever.” In the words of one global health director, “We’re not talking about any immediate help for India or Latin America or other countries going through an enormous spread of the virus.”

The Guardian reports a “silent decimation” in Paraguay, where last week the number of deaths was outpacing even India. Today, there is a surge in Colombia. Meanwhile, the occupants of wealthy countries are relieved to be “getting back to normal.” This is particularly depressing when you recall that the “normal” we are welcoming back was marked in its own ways by pain and death.

My point is not that Lorde and others should never go carefree to a beach. If you’re able to muster gratitude for life amidst a pandemic, more power to you.

But the victorious messaging, I think, will seem regrettable in time. Not only because of the present suffering of our brothers and sisters worldwide but also because our brothers and sisters within 25 feet — you, yourself! — may still be suffering immeasurably. Performative celebration smacks of either denial or hopelessness. Perhaps things are so bad that we should just drink and dance and not think too hard.

This, ironically, is when the crucifix becomes the last great symbol of hope, at least for me. The visage of a bound, dying man is an image of the truth — an admission of the potent reality of sin and death — while also a promise that God, the creator and omnipotent lover of our souls, knows our pain and carved a way through it. To see Him suffering torture and death … it’s one of the very few things a truly suffering person can cling to.

Bonhoeffer wrote that “within the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, suffering is overcome by suffering, and becomes the way to communion with God.” The cross is where God meets humankind. Jesus may not have been as pretty as Lorde, but he does assure us that one day our suffering will be “over, over, over.” Perhaps one day He will meet us on a beach, but not yet.