Imagine a story that follows this path. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy marries girl. Or how about this story. Girl goes into the wild. Nothing happens. She goes home.
Our stories follow a particular, easily recognized pattern. The protagonist is a rube, one who is innocent, unaware. Some external force provides a call to adventure, and our protagonist is compelled to act.
In the middle chapters, our hero faces her challenge. She doesn’t have the experience or skills to overcome the obstacles that prevent her success, and she struggles, doubting herself and her future, even deciding to give up. Her mentors and helpers convince her to continue, supporting her on her journey and helping her acquire what she needs to overcome whatever powerful force she confronts.
The story ends with our protagonist succeeding at beating back the forces she opposes, but not without maximum effort, not without growth, and not without sacrifice.
We are right now at the beginning of the middle chapters. External forces beyond our control have provided us with a call to action, the need to fight back forces that threaten us, the people we love, our way of life, and, perhaps, civilization as we know it. We have no option that allows us, individually or collectively, to avoid this conflict.
So, we fight.
The Middle Chapters
If you don’t know you are in the middle chapters, you can mistakenly believe that these are the final chapters. The middle chapters, the part of the story in which we face an existential threat, always feel like an ending. Every great crisis feels like we are living through the end times. But this isn’t how the great stories of Homo sapiens end. It’s the middle of the story, the part that reveals our character, that causes us to grow. It’s adversity, the obstacle we have to push against, that makes us strong.
The middle chapters start with a something so unbelievably challenging that it takes your breath away. Because you can’t imagine anything so incredible, it’s impossible to believe that you can succeed in overcoming it. As an individual, you feel too small, too insignificant, irrelevant.
When the threats are real, our courage appears, not for ourselves, but for the people we love. Like the soldiers who took Normandy. Like the first responders who ran into the two burning towers to save others. Or the person who steps between a bully and the person they would harm, exposing themself to harm to protect another. Like the medical professionals that now put themselves in harm’s way to protect and heal others.
At some point, the middle chapters end. We resolve the conflict. We have discovered the part of us capable of dealing with extreme adversity, recognized our power, and grown. We are made stronger by having walked through fire, even if we suffer some damage along the way.
Our scars are like tattoos but with better stories.
How Our Story Ends
In the end, we will win. There is no easy way to create this ending, one in which we are victorious, our foe is defeated, and we celebrate the dawn of the new day that always follows the darkest nights. That ending requires that we run straight through the middle of Hell with all its horrors.
Someone once said, “I am going through Hell.” Their friend replied, “Keep going; that’s no place to stop.” This is no time to stop; it is a time to keep going and do so with haste.
Something so devious, so small, and so destructive is no match for human resourcefulness and ingenuity. While its natural intelligence allows it to spread and infect us, it is no match for our own. We already possess the ability to decode its genome, engineer a vaccine, and, eventually, send it to the dustbin of history.
We will rebuild our lives, our economy, and our world. Faster, if we recognize these are the middle chapters, and over a much longer time than might be necessary if we believe this is an ending.
In the end, we will win, and if we are wise enough to learn from this experience, it’s how we prepare for whatever storm comes next.
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