A cardinal tweets his piercing notes outside my window at five-thirty. The Global Pandemic has not changed his routine one iota.
Why do we revel in disaster and cling to desperation? What is there that so inclines us to doom and gloom?
The old TV show Hee-Haw had a recurring scene in which several indolent hillbillies lolled on a cabin porch and sang:
“Gloom, despair, and agony on me; Deep, dark depression, excessive misery; If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, despair, and agony on me.”
I am thinking of the coronavirus. Not the virus itself, Gentle Reader. Rather, the social phenomenon that COVID-19 has become.
The Public Face of Pandemic
If you were to attend only to the news broadcasts, to the briefings and pressers, to the partisan Memes of Malice which clutter the Facebook feeds and the Twittersphere, you might think—no matter what point of view you’re coming from—that ALL IS LOST.
After all, it’s plain enough that Those Other People are behaving in dangerous and evil ways. Choose your poison:
A. Knuckle-dragging cretins flout the scientifically-determined guidelines, because they have no concern for the most vulnerable among us. They will spike the curve and cause millions of deaths, including their own, with no thought at all for the common good.
B. A bunch of shrewd operators are using this disease hoax as a pretext to grab power for themselves and deprive us of the right to live as we have always lived. They are destroying our economy and our means of subsistence, with no thought at all for the common good.
If these are the themes you’re hearing, Dear Reader, I weep for your ears and your soul. And these are the themes we are all hearing, over and over again.
But let me tell you what I keep seeing on the ground, out here in the United States:
Most people are maintaining a respectful fathom’s-length distance to one another. Many but not all wear masks. Those who go maskless still do steer a wide berth around others.
Truly frail oldsters stay buttoned up in their homes. They receive phone calls, Zoom calls, window-mediated visits, and messages of cheer from those who care about them.
Almost all of us go to the store to buy food and other essentials, but not often, and only with great care. The store employees work tirelessly, as usual, keeping the shelves stocked as well as possible, even though spot shortages persist.
Children play outside in good weather and, shocking or not, interact with next-door friends, suffering no apparent ill effects.
You can get restaurant food—tasty, well-presented, thoughtfully packaged—by pre-arrangement, with carefully designed procedures for pick-up or delivery.
Most of the really necessary things can still be done, if inconveniently.
Mail is delivered.
Jeopardy! has begun recycling old Ken Jennings victories. What could be wrong with that?
Amid the wreckage wrought by pandemic and panic, the world is starting to resume.
Here in Wisconsin, taxidermists can once more ply their trade. You may scoff, but this is Wisconsin.
The place where my wife and I take our cars for service is open for business again, on a “drop-the-car-off-all-day” basis—no hanging around the waiting room.
Our church begins to plan for resumption of in-person worship services, though this may not happen until late summer or early fall. Until then, Zoom services are a blessing.
Several colleges and universities have announced they plan to receive students on campus again for the fall semester.
The dog grooming service we use is re-opening on a limited basis, with a long waiting list of shaggy clients. It may be some time before Lacey gets her trim, but she will get it.
The plumber came out and fixed the water supply to our laundry tubs, but he wore a mask and gloves.
The price of gasoline seems to have bottomed out as more driving takes place than before. Sub-dollar prices, alas, are already in the rearview mirror.
The return to “normal” will not be swift or easy. Nor will “normal” be quite normal.
On the contrary, it will all be slow, cautious, and elaborately hedged. That’s because almost all Normal People are cautious and prudent in the face of a real threat to health. Almost all Normal People also are working day by day, without fanfare, to restore an orderly economy and society.
As Mister Rogers famously said, “Look for the helpers.” We’re all around.
Larry F. Sommers
Your New Favorite Writer
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)
We here in NYC are still “on pause.” But it is heartening to see how a city of 8 million people can unify around the concept (and wear masks) with only about a 5% selfishness quotient of folks unwilling to oblige. Let’s hope all goes well for Wisconsin, and eventually, NYC.
Thanks. We’re all doing our best.