It’s been two hundred eighty-one days now since I began quarantine, and while it’s probably not fair anymore to say I’m actively in quarantine, the pandemic has now consumed 75% of this year and is worse today than it ever was when it began.
I’m writing for the first time in a while, having not been able to really muster up the energy to put thoughts to the screen these past few months, consumed by “work from home” and the thousand or so square feet that have become my entire world. But that shattered a little bit tonight on learning a distant relative, one I don’t think I’ve seen since I was maybe eleven or twelve, succumbed to the novel coronavirus after a socially-distanced Thanksgiving gathering of family in Georgia.
I’m sad to hear that news. I’m sad to know how common that news is tonight among my fellow Americans. I’m sad to hear just about any news these days. Especially when “the news” is your job as someone working in the journalism sphere, if it’s not stories from home, it’s stories from afar:
A woman driving through a crowd of protesters in the City today. A civil war no one is talking about brewing in Ethiopia. Basic human rights being slaughtered in Hong Kong, Belarus, or Iraq. Or, closer to home, people walking into a retail store, refusing to wear a mask, then blatantly coughing and spitting everywhere they go. Or our own politicians engaged in a seditious autocoup.
It’s all too much and the cruelty is just shameless. Then, the pandemic somehow stretches it out and makes it all that much worse. Suffice to say, it was easier these past few months to just not write, lest I drag you down to despair with me.
Here at home, I can wax pragmatic with you–as opposed to poetic for once–and we can talk about masks or CDC recommendations or bad leadership that has brought us to this point, all things being political, and I can also tell you what the other side of the coin looks like: with a partner who’s recently lost a job after it was yet one more casualty to this virus, or as someone who could lay out some sort of weird cost-benefit analysis of “staying home” in some kind of self-imposed lockdown and what that does to you physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Or, to wax poetic after all, I had a theology professor back in the day who liked to argue that hell wasn’t a physical place with a man in a red suit and horns but was, very simply, alienation. If heaven, he surmised, was true connection, then hell must be the lack of it. And so, believing that we mere human beings not only crave connection but our souls demand it, I think it apt to say that a pandemic might be the closest to hell a lot of us have ever come, if we hadn’t found our way there already through some other means.
In that sense–and only in that sense–I can empathize a little, albeit only briefly, with the anti-lockdown crowd, with the people who go out and just go about their lives like there is no pandemic. Or even those of us who try to follow the rules, wear our masks, socially-distance, keep our activities outdoors, yet maybe we shrug off those slip-ups when we make them here and there, too, believing we need what we need.
And those of us who have endured some lockdown “hell” on the belief that doing so would save lives (our own, sure, but more importantly, so many others) have not chosen an easy path. So while I see the selfishness in the choices being made to go about your “business as usual,” I also can’t help but wonder: maybe some people are just physiologically, psychologically built in such a way that they really cannot fathom any other alternative. We’re only human after all. Who knew being only human could also be so damn deadly?
I guess anyone who has paid attention to any of human history would know that, actually. Hard times, they bring out the best and the worst in us–and both, mind you, are in all of us.
That’s not an excuse for them. There are, after all, degrees of alienation. There’s, “Oh my God I’m stuck at home still on my two hundred and eighty-first day and when will this friggin end?!” But then there’s also, “I’m in the hospital, can barely breath, and no one in my family can come anywhere near me; I may die alone.” I mean, if I have to choose which ring of the inferno I’m headed toward, hanging with Greek philosophers and babies in limbo is a lot better than Brutus, Judas, and Cassius in the icy depths of hell.
So, no, I make no excuse for the anti-lockdown crowd, or even for myself or others who think we can do this pandemic by our own rules.
The hell we face, in large part, is very simply the reality we’re stuck in these days. We’ve built a sick culture, a “pandemic” of disinformation and conspiracy theories that preceded the novel coronavirus and was the wind beneath its wings. You can’t talk through (or in my case, yell away) insane Q-Anon conspiracy theories. Likewise, you can’t hug to death anti-science mentalities either. Just like you don’t convince cultists to leave a cult. These culture-bending realities are so widespread, so engulfing, that to dismantle them, well, you don’t do that. They either fizzle out on their own, in their own good time, or they explode in your face. But they take those they were bound to take one way or the other.
And there you have the biggest reason I haven’t written. This is where I get locked up in my head, because this is the point at which I want to say, “Okay here’s what we’re gonna do to make it all better,” or “Here’s why it’s okay.” In many respects, I’ve devoted a large chunk of my life to tackling that very problem–disinformation and “fake news,” largely on the belief that you combat fake speech with free, truthful speech.
But there also comes a point in time where chasm grows so large there’s almost no escaping it. And if the solution is, as most solutions are, very simply connection in an age where that is near impossible to reasonably, safely grasp, what are we left with?
We’re left with hope. And maybe, on the verge of a new year, with a new administration afoot, with a vaccine–no, multiple vaccines–about to be approved, there’s good reason to think that’s enough. But if I don’t write again for a while, it’s because hope and I don’t have a great track record. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a try. After all, that’s kind of the point to hope. The track record is irrelevant.
Maybe there’s a better world a’comin’ after all.