Ben Fields: Selfishly keeping the world at bay (Opinion)

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Ben Fields

Ben Fields

I’ve been a bit selfish lately in how I’ve viewed everything going on in the world. Maybe I’ve had little choice.

I’ve probably recounted this sequence of events a bit too often, but stay with me at least one more time. A lot of you know my wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that had already metastasized in January. There was a lot of seeing doctors, getting second and third opinions and waiting on raw nerves for test results. Then the treatments started, and that was its own new form of challenge for her and for me.

But we were getting in a groove. We were traveling up to Ohio State University for treatments, and they were working. We thought we had turned a corner. Then came the COVID-19 outbreak. That complicated things a lot — our son and I couldn’t go into the hospital, my wife and I became responsible for the kid’s education, with a lot of help from his school — but the treatments continued. Progress continued regarding her condition.

During this time, I stopped using Twitter or watching presidential updates. A selfish decision to cut down on needless, internalized anger over situations I can’t control. I figured I needed to stay focused on what mattered. I watched governors’ updates in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. I tuned in for briefings from national health professionals, but, outside of that, the nastiness and lunacy of social media just became too much for me with everything that was bearing down on us.

Then the coronavirus became political. That seemed unnecessary, but I focused on making sure I was masked and gloved so I didn’t bring anything home to a spouse with a compromised immune system.

Then came the murder hornets. Sure. Why not?

We visited Columbus twice over the past two weeks. The treatments did their job. My wife is doing well. We’re getting everything set up for surgery. Ohio, like West Virginia, has opened up quite a bit over the past two weeks. On Tuesday, while my wife was meeting with a surgeon, I took my son to a nearby Target to look at toys. He’s been such a trouper, after all.

The store was still being very cautious about social distancing, and all employees, along with a majority of the shoppers (including us), were wearing masks. The “new normal” doesn’t seem so bad. Maybe everything is going to be all right. Then, I saw a sign on the door that read, “We will be closing at 8 p.m. tonight in compliance with a citywide curfew.”

It’s almost as if I felt the word “thud” uttered in my chest and sink down to my stomach. Of course I had read about and seen news reports on George Floyd’s slaying at the knee of a police officer. Of course, I was outraged in my own way. I made a conscious, selfish decision not to watch the video. It would’ve been too much. I knew about the protests, but it all seemed so far away. That sign popped through my poorly maintained bubble with the force and whine of a dentist’s drill. A lot of stuff I had been keeping at arm’s length started flooding my soul.

A cruel, unfair diagnosis handed to the person I care more about than anyone else in the world from a disease that is cruel and unfair. A difficult road to recovery that stripped her of her hair and her energy. A pandemic that could have been better contained and dealt with if there were any degree of government cooperation and competence. Needless clashes over whether to wear a mask, without thinking of who someone could unwittingly hurt by choosing to be irresponsible. Protests over yet another meaningless act of violence against a black man, complicated by the need for social distancing and the infused element of criminal looters, prompting a violent reaction from police. Authorities popping tear gas and clearing protesters so a man who never reads the Bible could pose with one in front of a church for a photo op.

None of us are unaffected by all of this. We should be angry. We should demand change. But, perhaps more than anything, we should listen to those who know what they’re talking about, whether it be public health officials on an unprecedented pandemic or minority group leaders on systemic oppression for centuries that has valued the lives of some more than others based on skin color.

I don’t have the answers. Moreover, it’s not my place to pretend I do, as others might. But I’m done keeping it out, because everything is not all right. I think it can be. I’m willing to listen and participate in getting there. That’s all I can advise anyone else to do.

Be kind, listen to one another and take care of each other. It’s not a cure, but it’s a start.

Ben FIelds is opinion editor

of the Gazette-Mail. Reach him at

ben.fields@wvgazettemail.com or follow

@BenFieldsWV on Twitter.

Funerals for Sunday, July 12, 2020

Cromley, Doris - 2 p.m., Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.

Harrison, Jeffrey - Noon, Coonskin Park, Shelter #18, Charleston.

Hiser, Audrey - Noon, Wallace Memorial Cemetery, Clintonville.

Massey, Paul - 2 p.m., Restlawn Memory Gardens, Victor.