For the past three days, my housemates and I have chosen to watch the PBS series, The Roosevelts, together as sort of a “dinner theater” event. Although it is a departure from our normal Holy Week schedule, we have found the practice worthwhile for the study of both our national history and human behavior in the relatively recent past. Most compelling was last night’s segment which chronicled the rise of Franklin Roosevelt from the beginning of his participation in the political sphere to his election as President of the United States. It was during this period that he was stricken with polio.
FDR went swiftly from being a rich, strong, entitled man to whom all things came without struggle to becoming a helpless invalid who could do virtually nothing for himself. It was fascinating to see the transformation from a proud, independent, self-assured person who refused to allow anyone to see evidence of his disability to a man who became a champion of others like himself who not only survived but thrived. The transformation began when he opened his home in Warm Springs to polio victims of all ages and found possibility in sharing his lot with them. He came to a deeper understanding of people and grew in a new openness, born of his own struggles and the sharing with those dealing with all manner of distress. It was the era of the Great Depression in our country.
Acceptance of self and others is writ large throughout this series, both by those in this dynasty who learned the life lessons and those who did not. Adversity was a teacher for those who stepped up to the challenges they faced for their own good and the benefit of others. (Franklin’s wife, Eleanor, has already begun to shine by episode three and is clearly one of the winners in the willingness to go out of herself for others.)
Perhaps it is a stretch to compare our time to theirs but there are moments when the connection seems clear to me and it is the consciousness of what is possible and acceptance of what is not that will determine the outcome of this crisis of COVID-19 that we are now experiencing. And in what may seem a huge leap, may I quote St. Paul who reminds us that Jesus “did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at but rather emptied himself…”
May we contemplate the power and possibility of transformation during these next three days in a way that will open us to deeper understanding, stronger self-discipline and the great love of God in light.