Decisions and Consequences in a Mortal Life


A Rhode Island family has a child with a disease that requires pretty significant daily treatments and an increased concern about illnesses like the flu.  After receiving the diagnosis, they increased their household emphasis on hygiene, cleanliness, exercise, and health and battled with tricky questions about longevity and quality of life.

When do you pull a child out of school?  What sort of activities can you no longer do?  Water parks might definitely be out, per the doctor, but what about trampoline parks and that sort of thing?  That is for each family to decide.

This year, the child is in a grade that traditionally takes an extended class field trip, which has been a source of anxiety for the parents for months, or even years.  The early weeks of attention to COVID-19 put a sharper point on that anxiety, and it was looking more and more likely that they would have to speak the difficult “no.”

In such circumstances, it might be natural for parents to feel a little bit of guilty relief when they don’t have to say, “no,” because the event itself is canceled.  But circumstances have moved well past that.  The final, decisive end of hope for the trip was closure of the century-old Rhode Island travel company that handled the arrangements from its Cumberland office.

The company opened its doors in 1926.  It survived the Great Depression, World War II, the stagflation of the 1970s, the dot-com bubble, and the Great Recession.  In the face of COVID-19, the announcement on the website of Conway Tours gives the impression that the owners have no plans to re-open or try to start things up again when the wave of this virus has passed.

Without doubt, travel agencies are uniquely vulnerable to the recession that we now face, but the survival of other businesses and industries that live a bit farther from the cliff’s edge will depend on how we, as a society, respond to the crisis. It’s still too early to know what the best response is, right now, but we have to remain mindful that none of our reactions is without a trade-off.

Recent public debates have renewed over the old conflict between security and freedom, but the question is deeper than that.  Civilizations have to make decisions that balance longevity and quality of life, too, because every life begins with a diagnosis of its end.  That is nothing new, and nothing unique to any given family.