On April 10, 2020, I wrote the following, as part of the “Alon Preiss Reviews the Web” feature that (come to think of it) I have not written for a while.
This fine magazine, Audere, recently published a poem from the 16th century, by a man dying of the pandemic (I am sick, I must die. / Lord, have mercy on us!), maybe as a reminder that we’ve been through this before and come out on the other side, maybe as a counter to the inspirational poems we’re seeing rise from the web.
For example, a website called “To the best of our knowledge”, which is dedicated to “Exploring the Deeper End of Ideas,” notes that “one of the most popular pandemic poems to date was authored by Kitty O’Meara, a retired teacher in Lake Mills.” Deepak Chopra read her poem on the web, for example.
With due respect to retired teachers in Lake Mills, I must disagree with Ms. O’Meara’s opinion.
In her poem, she marvels that “in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways” — i.e., in the extremely temporary absence of greenhouse gases — “the earth began to heal.” She writes that “people began to think differently,” and she anticipates that “when the danger passed … the people joined together again … and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”
Well, half of that poem is not true, and the second half is not likely!
I didn’t really truly need to justify my opinion at the time; it was pretty obvious in April 2020 that the Trumpists would use the the virus to divide Americans, profiteer and scapegoat some marginalized group, and that we Lefties would Virtue Signal. I am actually all in favor of Virtual Signaling to the extent it has a good result (my boss ostentatiously donates money to some good cause, and then I donate money to the same good cause, for example), but in the case of Covid it was pretty clear that if Lefties wore masks, Trumpists would not, and that if Lefties got vaccinated, Trumpists would not. Trumpists are immune to Virtual Signals.
“I just do not believe that Kitty O’Meara is right,” I wrote back then. “I do not think human beings will learn from this; I do not think that the Earth will heal. If we survive this, the next day, the coal-fired power plants will plug right back in. And even in the depths of despair, the Red State/Blue State invective machine has not slowed a bit.”
And what of Kitty O’Meara? Wow, her face must be red! But don’t worry, an ethical, caring person like Kitty O’Meara has doubtless admitted her error. I mean, golly, she loves people. She didn’t do all this to make money, certainly.
As the kids say: Um.
Kitty O’Meara has been able to profit from her time in the limelight. She has left the jobs she held at the time the pandemic began to pursue a book deal (Simon and Schuster is now her publisher; her book currently has 690 glowing Amazon reviews) and a new career as a spiritual advisor, in which, I guess, she’ll sell more of her snake oil. “In a time when we all need to believe something good can come out of something so devastating, Kitty’s words give us pause and hope,” writes Kate Winslet. “Combined with the warm illustrations depicting life, this book offers the reader encouragement for a brighter tomorrow.”
Upon publication of her book, as the virus bareled through the third world, killing millions, and as frontline workers risked their lives, often died and (at best) lost their jobs amidst a cratering economy, O’Meara declared,
I think it is a time to go deep inside of ourselves and listen to what we are thinking and feeling. We have the gift of time to explore our feelings, to figure out what our talents are, learn more about what we love, and offer our talents to each other and the earth. The virus brings sickness, but we can choose to be more alive than ever. We can rest. We can sit and listen, make art, learn something new, share family stories, or plant a flower seed and watch it grow, day by day. We can read, and dream, and rest.
As millions died, did she really suggest that people might “choose to be more alive than ever”?
On and on she goes, into 2022. In her New Year’s message, she assured us not to worry that “bodies besieged by virus cannot overcome its cresting waves,” because “the turning brings us to a new place. We must be new to meet it.”
What miserable, destructive nonsense. (With unnecessary Oxford commas.)
But of course, Kitty O’Meara cares about children.
By coming together, we can help kids continue to learn while they are out of school and help families get through this. You can support Save the Children’s critical work in the United States by making a donation to the organization when you pre-order And The People Stayed Home by Kitty O’Meara.
See what she did there? For a moment, I almost believed that a portion of O’Meara’s profits were going to Save the Children.
Why have I now devoted an entire ranting column to a condemnation of one former schoolteacher and her famous movie star friend?
It’s because profiteering off false hope has always been immoral and unethical; charlatans used to roam from small town to small town, selling this kind of optimism in a bottle. She may not be the only one, but she became the public face of a certain kind of dangerous inclination, and she shouldn’t be praised or even dismissed as harmless.
I hereby challenge Kitty O’Meara to a debate, anywhere, anytime, any terms she chooses.
And she can bring Kate Winslet with her.