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The Way I’m Seeing the World: A Parable

Once there was a town that elected a new mayor. The former mayor spent quite a lot of tax money on a state-of-the-art fire department. The former mayor had grown up studying about the Great Fire of London in 1666, The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and many others. There were many beautiful old buildings in this town and the former mayor wanted to make sure they could be saved if anything happened.

But half the people thought he spent too much. They hadn’t had any fires in years. After the new mayor took office, he said, “Look, we’re even paying these firemen to do nothing. No fires, no need for the firemen. We’ve got the best equipment around anyway.” So the firemen left to live in other towns.

Two years later, the mayor’s assistant came into his office. “Sir, there is smoke coming from the old courthouse,” he said. 

The mayor looked out of his window and saw a thin wisp of smoke rising from the next block over. “It’s nothing,” he said. “No one goes in there anymore anyway.” He returned to reading a flattering article about himself in the paper.

An hour later, the assistant came back. “Sir, the smoke is getting thicker.”

The mayor was annoyed because he was interrupted from another flattering article. He looked out his window. The smoke was denser. “I don’t see any flames. It’ll go away.”

Soon, several townspeople burst through the door. “Sir,” said the man who drove the bus, “the old courthouse is engulfed in smoke.”

“Did you see any flames?”

“No.”

“Then why are you here? You’re supposed to be taking people to and from work. If they can’t work, they can’t pay taxes.” The mayor dismissed everyone.

The mayor heard shouts outside his window. When he looked out, he saw a crowd had gathered and shouted at his office. Then he looked up to see huge flames coming from the roof of the old courthouse. Several sparks drifted from it and lit the roofs of nearby buildings. He jumped up and gathered whoever he saw on his way to the fire station.

He barked at his assistant, “Get in that truck and drive it down to the old courthouse.”

“Sir, I don’t even know how to drive a car. I take the bus everyday.”

“Then go find the bus driver. Get him here.”

Several people tried to start the fire engine, but there were so many buttons and levers they couldn’t figure it out. Someone found the ignition, but the engine wouldn’t start. Finally, the assistant returned with the bus driver who opened the engine’s side panel, made a few adjustments, and got it started. But even he didn’t know what all the other buttons and levers did either. When they drove it to the fire, they hit and damaged several cars on the road. They were in a hurry, but no one knew which gizmo controlled the siren to alert other drivers to get out of the way.

At last they reached the fire. Three more buildings had caught. “We need to save the courthouse first,” said the mayor.

The people looked at the courthouse. It was collapsing. It was obviously gone. “Sir,” one of them asked, “Shouldn’t we start with the buildings we can save? Those are our businesses.”

“I’m the mayor and I say we start with the courthouse. Get started or I’ll have you arrested for hindering our operation.”

The people stared at him.

“What are you waiting for?” He bellowed.

“What do we do?” Said one. 

“We’ve never worked a fire engine before,” said another.

The mayor blustered. “Take down the hose and start putting water on the fire.”

It took a long time to figure out how to get the hose down and how to attach it to a hydrant. They finally got the water to come out, and found the hose had become old from disuse and would spring multiple leaks. No one had checked its condition in two years. Some water came out of the nozzle but not the strong spray they had expected. This was just as well. Everyone there was winded just by lifting the heavy hose. They would not have been able to control the force of the full jet of water. Everyone was sweaty from the heat. The air was thick with smoke, making it hard to breathe.

By now, the courthouse was a pile of glowing embers. Most of the rest of the buildings around them were engulfed now too. 

The structures were gone. The businesses were gone. And still, the mayor congratulated himself to the people on what an expert fireman he was.

****

I’ve given up getting my information from social media or even 24 hour news sources where they are desperate for ratings. Most of the time anymore, I use Google Scholar. I prefer as much truth as I can find, whether I like the truth or not. I’m a former Republican who is now unaffiliated because I can’t stomach what I’m seeing. Some of the following articles inspired The Way I’m Seeing the World: A Parable:

http://susanjaffe.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Jaffe-CDC-Global-Health-021718.pdf

https://www.nature.com/news/fund-to-curb-outbreaks-and-chronic-disease-on-the-chopping-block-1.21963

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5461399/

https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/02/27/trump-johns-hopkins-study-pandemic-coronaviruscovid-19-649-em0-art1-dtd-health/

https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m941.full

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2762951

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