The following is an excerpt from Naomi Wolf’s new book Facing the Beast (Chelsea Green Publishing November 2023) and is printed with permission from the publisher.
In March 2020, my husband and I moved from South Bronx to a picture-perfect region in the country—the Hudson Valley—memorialized by painters and poets; it was a patchwork of green trees and yellow fields, majestic hillsides, storied waterfalls, and little homesteads dotted picturesquely on the slopes of sleepy hamlets.
Little did I know, when we moved there, that it would provide me with an illustration, in miniature, for the damage that the pandemic (or, shall I say, “the pandemic,” because, as I proved in other analyses, the data on which this story was told, was always compromised and unverifiable) and the reaction to the pandemic—did to our culture, and to our civic life.
And the damage that it did to our hearts.
Towns in our area look like Norman Rockwell paintings. When you drive to Millerton, it looks like you are driving into the heart of archetypal America.
It sure looks that way, anyway.
But now I am obliged to maintain a fervent inner monologue, just so I can pleasantly go about my business in the local hardware store, in the local florist, in the post office.
Because an emotional massacre took place in these little towns, across America. And now we are expected to act as if this has never happened at all.
Psychically, though—emotionally—there is blood flowing in the streets. Bodies are stacked up, invisible, in front of the candy stores, the high-end wine stores, outside the farmers’ market on Saturdays.
So, my quiet, internal mantra, is: “I forgive you.”
I forgive you, Millerton movie theater. Your owner, who was interviewed just before the pandemic, saying lovely things in a local paper about how the revamped theater would enhance the local community, posted a sign in 2021 declaring that only vaccinated people could enter. You needed to really hunt out the fine print to ascertain that you could walk through those doors if you were unvaccinated, but only if you were bearing a negative PCR test.
I forgive the store owners for stripping me of a great benefit of a free society—the immeasurable gift of liberty, of America: the right to be dreamy, to have some privacy, and to be preoccupied with one’s own thoughts.
I forgive the flower shop employee for presenting me with this abrupt, invasive question that each time made me, with my clinically diagnosed PTSD from a very old trauma, feel ambushed, violated, and humiliated, all at once. Surely this sense of ambush was felt by trauma survivors everywhere.
Are you vaccinated?
Are you? Vaccinated?
Are you vaccinated?
Are you naked? Are you helpless?
Are you mine? My possession?
I forgive my loved ones for keeping us from the Thanksgiving table.
I forgive them because my soul instructs me that I must.
But I cannot forget.
Are we supposed to just pick up again, as if emotional limbs were not crushed, as if hearts and guts were not pierced as if with sharp objects?
All those people—now that athletes are dropping dead, now that those people’s own loved ones are sickening and hospitalized, now that the “transmission” is known to be a lie and the vaccines’ “efficacy” itself is known to be a lie—are they—sorry? Are they reflecting upon themselves, on their actions, on their consciences; on their immortal souls; on what they have done to others; on their part in this shameful melodrama in American and world history—a time that now can never be erased?
I don’t hear it. I don’t hear any apologies.
I don’t see signs on the Millerton movie theater saying, “Dear Customers. We are so sorry we treated many of you as if we were all living under Jim Crow laws. We did so for no reason at all. There is no excuse, of course, for such discrimination, then or now. Please forgive us.”
Nothing. Not one conversation. Not one sign. Not one article.
Instead, people have reacted to the fact of their awfulness, of their profound wrongness, of their foolishness, of their ignorance and credulity, like sneaky, guilty dogs. They sidled up.
In the city, they quietly began adding one to the guest list. In the country, they began stopping their cars in the sunny air to have a little chat.
I can and must forgive all those whom I enumerated. But it is harder to forgive—others.
That personal, inward forgiveness of deluded individuals, or of coerced small business owners, which is my own internal labor—work I do daily between myself and my God, just so that I won’t turn to stone—has nothing to do, of course, with the wrongdoers’ need on their side of the relationship, truly to self-examine and truly to repent. And it certainly does not avert the grave and terrible accounting of crimes, and the enactment of true justice, for the leaders and spokespeople and institutions who committed evil, that is now utterly necessary.
Without accountability, and truth and reconciliation commissions, and terrible, commensurate levels of justice served up to suit the crimes committed, as South Africa, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Germany have all learned to their cost, there is nothing at all to ensure that the exact same crimes won’t be committed again.
The doctors and hospitals and medical organizations—who were discovered in 2023 to have taken money wholesale from the US Department of Health and Human Services—which they received only if they stuck to the HHS “script”—must be held accountable.
It is hard to forgive the mayors of New York City, Bill de Blasio and Eric Adams, who both drove the brave first responders who did not wish to submit to a dangerous experiment into joblessness, with no income with which to feed their families. They and other political leaders must be held accountable.
It is hard to forgive the Ivy League universities, that took the money from HHS and then delivered the bodies of their students, by forcing almost all the members of their communities to submit to a deadly or dangerous experimental injection—one that will damage the fertility of many young women and will damage the hearts of many young men; one that will kill community members.
The deans and trustees who took the money and “mandated” our kids—and some still do, to this day—must be held accountable.
It is almost impossible to forgive the churches, the synagogues, who took the money and stayed closed. Or who took the money, and then locked their doors at High Holy Day Services against the unvaccinated.
The rabbis and priests and ministers who took the money and practiced unlawful discrimination, and abandoned their spiritual calling, must be held accountable.
These are great sins.
But meanwhile, you have errands to run.
You must pick up your life again.
You must step around the bodies decomposing invisibly in the charming streets of our nation.
You must pick up again as if you were not annihilated in spirit. Or you must pick up again if you were the abuser.
Will you apologize if you did wrong?
Will you forgive if you were wronged?
Can this nation, which fell so far short of its identity and its Founders’ intention, ever heal?
Can we heal ourselves?
Forgiveness on an internal level—of coerced or deluded individuals—may help us or heal us as private individuals.
But only the gravest of reckonings, the truth pursued to its limit in every single case, investigations and trials launched according to the beautiful rule of our law, and somber justice then served to leaders, spokespeople, and institutions will ever allow us to heal, or even move safely forward together—as a nation.
Naomi Wolf’s most recent books include the New York Times bestsellers Vagina, The End of America, and Give Me Liberty, in addition to the landmark bestseller The Beauty Myth.
A former Rhodes Scholar, she completed a doctorate in English language and literature from the University of Oxford in 2015, was a research fellow at Barnard College and the University of Oxford, and taught rhetoric at the George Washington University and Victorian studies at Stony Brook University. Wolf lives in the Hudson River Valley.