Life in the age of coronavirus has changed beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. BoomerCafé’s executive editor and co-founder Greg Dobbs writes about the many ways in which our world has turned upside down.
This is like a month of Sundays. It’s what a lot of us have always dreamed of having.
But somehow it doesn’t feel the way it should. Too much anxiety out there. Anxiety over what we touch. Anxiety over how close someone comes when we pass on a sidewalk. If you wrote a story about what we see in our world today— from refrigerated trucks sitting outside hospitals waiting for corpses, to the inexplicable run on toilet paper— you could submit it to the incomparably chilling old TV series called The Twilight Zone and they wouldn’t have to change a word.
Not that every living thing is anxious. To the contrary, almost every other living thing is impervious to this crisis. Where I live, in the Rocky Mountains, the elk still graze where they like. No need for social distancing.
And it’s healthy for us to see healthy sights like this: a mother dove, nesting in an old Christmas wreath outside the suburban Washington home of BoomerCafé’s co-founder David Henderson. It’s like nothing in her life has changed. Because it hasn’t.
The only exception, in fact, is dogs. They’re having the time of their lives. For once, people aren’t shutting the door and leaving them alone from dawn to dusk. And they’re getting more walks than ever. A joke went around on the internet that says, “It’s the dogs who started this.”
For dogs, this month of Sundays is a treat.
But for most of us, not so much. Back in normal times, which seems like half-a-lifetime ago, a Sunday was a day to do whatever we liked. A day away from home, or a day on the couch at home. A good project, a good walk, a good game, a good book.
That was then, this is now. Happily, I’ve heard some people rejoice at the slower pace of life, the lower levels of pollution, and for families, the togetherness that the old normal rarely allowed. But I’ve heard others refer to this new normal— spent sheltering in place, in self-isolation, whatever you want to call it— as imprisonment.
Just last week was the anniversary of the conviction of Lieutenant William Calley. Baby boomers will remember him from the Vietnam War, the fomenter and fall guy of the massacre at My Lai. Ultimately his sentence was three years of house arrest and I remember thinking at the time, “Gee, that hardly sounds like punishment.” Now I see it a little differently.
Of course we’re all finding new things to do in our month of Sundays. Or finding more time for old things. A friend of mine pointed out that between FaceTime and Skype and Zoom calls, and a growing stream of jokes and cartoons, comedy sketches and clever songs circulating on the internet, and just paying intense attention to the ever-alarming news about the virus, he’s spending a lot more screen time than ever before. Which gives him a glimpse of his grandkids’ future. Which isn’t auspicious.
One new thing for me by the way is, I’m growing a beard. Last month, on Friday the 13th, when our world really began to turn upside down, I decided for the first time in my life to grow a beard. Thankfully I’ve got other things to keep me busy while I shelter in place because growing a beard doesn’t actually take up much time in my day.
That’s a good thing, because I need a lot more time for washing. Not just my hands, but my food. I’m wondering, after washing our hands with soap, should we wash our soap with more soap?
Another change in this month of Sundays is, in the old normal, if you had a little sniffle, that’s all it was, a sniffle. Now, you might worry that a sniffle is a symptom. A symptom of the virus. No reason to run scared, but it’s hard to keep your mind from running in that direction.
And, although this dread disease is respiratory, not gastrointestinal, what’s with the unfathomable but unrelenting run on toilet paper? You know there’s something abnormal going on when, after a friend directs you to a stash of toilet paper on Amazon, you score four 24-packs and arrange to have them shipped to yourself and to each of your kids. Not a gift of chocolates, or flowers, or a case of beer, but toilet paper. And then, something even more abnormal: you get a followup email saying “Sorry, we’re out.”
But if that’s the worst thing my family and I suffer in this month of Sundays, we are indisputably lucky. Luckier, for sure, than the woman another friend describes, whose husband has COPD and whose five-year-old granddaughter has a compromised immune system. He says that when he asked her how he might be able to help, she simply said, “Catch my tears.”
There are a lot of tears going around. Particularly in parts of the population about whom we don’t think nearly enough. The homeless, amongst whom this virus can spread like wildfire. The abused, stuck even longer with their abusers. And lest we forget, the victims of the virus now fighting for their lives. I have a friend who was intubated two weeks ago and put on a ventilator to stay alive. I’ve been intubated twice in the past myself. It’s horrible. Like a gag reflex you can’t suppress, 24/7. Thousands, from coast to coast, are going through that right now.
When will it end? How will it end? I can only quote the two experts I’ve come to trust, even though in some ways they only stay a step ahead of us. As Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline.” And from Dr. Deborah Birx: “There’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors.”
But those behaviors have to be universal, because otherwise, this plague will be like a campfire that’s not totally smothered. Science correspondent Ed Yong wrote in The Atlantic, “As long as the virus persists somewhere, there’s a chance that one infected traveler will reignite fresh sparks in countries that have already extinguished their fires.” In other words, until there’s a vaccine or a treatment for this coronavirus, all of us are only as strong as the weakest link.
Our month of Sundays could last longer.