Words Matter

Obviously, I believe that words matter. Language is a tool that can be used to paint a picture to convey a message. It can be written or spoken. Singing is as old as humanity and can speak to hearts when spoken words can’t’ be heard.

I hear a lot of words about what is happening: shelter-in-place, social distancing, quarantine, isolate, wash your hands, sanitize. Coronavirus can live for three hours in droplets in the air. It lives on plastic, cardboard and stainless steel for different amounts of time.

Ordering take-out is okay. Microwave your food to kill the virus. Drinking warm water every day sends the virus from your throat to your stomach where the acid will kill it. Kids can’t get it. Kids are dying from it.

There are so many advisories and directives coming out that I don’t even know what is true anymore. There is on one consistent message or place that we can find a complete picture. This virus isn’t concrete and it feels like the target is always moving.

The Honakers have been home for 37 years now – I’m kidding, its only been two weeks, six days, nine hours and 45 minutes, but who’s counting. Ellie’s doctor told us we need to stay home and so we are. Honestly, the thought of any of my kids leaving my house in an ambulance to go to the hospital alone and fight this thing on a ventilator is enough to keep me home for as long as it takes.

There is a lot of debate on sheltering-in-place across the country. Many governors have issued the order and many states are staying home. The doctors and scientists have been telling us, begging us, for weeks to stay home.

Arkansas’ Governor, Asa Hutchinson, has been directing our state from his press conferences every day that I have been home. I have watched them all and have been impressed with his ability to authentically convey complicated messages, how he surrounds himself with different experts from around the medical and business world, and with his transparency when he talks about what it is like to try to procure supplies and tests.

However, I am growing more and more concerned with his direction as it surrounds a shelter-in-place order.

Yesterday he was on NPR’s 1A program discussing why he is one of the last governors to order a shelter-in-place for his state. Arkansas is being used as an example nationally and not for good reason. It feels like he is digging his heels in and I don’t think that perception is helpful.

Governor Hutchinson cites the economy and workers as the reason why he is avoiding the shelter-in-place order. He has placed restrictions in areas that he (and his experts) believes are necessary and has asked the state’s residents to use their own sense to stay at home and avoid going out.

He and the Little Rock’s Mayor Frank Scott have closed restaurants – except for take-out – bars, massage parlors, nail salons, hair salons and schools. They have closed parks and have taken down basketball goals or put yellow tape around jungle gyms in playgrounds. The idea is that these restrictions, and many others, have essentially done the same functions as a shelter-in-place order, just without using those exact words.

My church is leaning on the internet for services. We have been watching Sunday services online and they are even holding weekly meetings and Sunday School classes on Zoom.

There is a church one block from my house that hasn’t changed operations at all. Every Sunday, the parking lot is packed. They held a funeral last week and cars were parked all around the neighborhood belonging to people congregated to pay their respects.

I understand that Arkansas is home to many essential service industries that are helping the entire country right now. Walmart, Tyson Foods and JB Hunt home offices are located here.

I also understand that Arkansas is consistently at or near the bottom of most rankings when it comes to education and healthcare. The majority of square footage in this state is rural and connection to the outside world is often slow, if not non-existent at times. A lot of information is passed through oral tradition rather than the media, which can be challenging as we all know from playing “telephone” as kids.

I remember finding myself in the “Cone of Uncertainty” during many hurricane seasons growing up in Alabama. Most people would plan to just ride out the storm despite the governor and EMA warnings to evacuate. As the storm gets closer to landfall, the cone of uncertainty narrows and meteorologists are better able to determine where the eye of the storm is likely to pass.

About 24 hours before landfall, the EMA spokesperson, standing next to the governor, would advise residents who were not planning to leave to write their name, blood type, next of kin’s phone number and social security number on their arm with a permanent marker. Those who chose to stay were warned that rescue workers would not be able to come save them until it was safe enough once the storm passed.

The idea of writing your personal information on your arm for rescue workers to find hours after a storm had passed was always eye-opening for me. I knew the press conference was coming, it happened every storm, but the matter-of-fact tone coupled with the harshness of the words and the image of people floating in floodwaters with permanent marker on their arms painted enough of a picture for me that made me take heed and grasp the severity of the situation.

I am reminded of that feeling every time I watch our governor’s press conferences these days. I don’t know that the words he uses are strong enough to catch people’s attention and help others understand that the cone of uncertainty is closing in.

There will be no one to come and save us once the winds start coming in. Survival is our own individual responsibility – in this case it’s stay home, wash your hands, no more than 10 people. If you choose not to take the warnings seriously, you will have to ride it out and we will see who is standing once it all blows over.


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