If you’d wanted to write a book about a 21st Century pandemic, you probably wouldn’t have begun to foresee all the fallout this one has had… or, as BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs says, how long it would last.
I thought I was clever back in April, while the novel coronavirus still was truly novel, when I wrote of life in lockdown as “a month of Sundays.”
Now, after nearly five months of Sundays, author John Pavlovitz has updated the narrative: “Yesterday was a long year.”
And it isn’t over. Not even close.
Can you believe, not half a year ago, that when we saw pictures of people wearing masks in Asia, we thought they looked strange, as in, “It’ll never happen here!” Or that many of us now would rather let the plaque build up rather than go to the dentist? Or even let heart pain play out rather than go to the hospital? And can you believe we used to consider airplanes safer than cars, until we began to think of them instead— despite airlines’ assurances about excellent ventilation and air circulation— as long tubular petri dishes with no escape from a fellow passenger’s deadly germs?
And who ever would have thought not half a year ago that we’d spend a couple of months hoarding toilet paper… if we could even score some at all? Actually there’s a name for that: “Hoarding disorder.” But the American Psychiatric Association defines that as a distinct mental illness, so it must be someone else, right? Nope. Not any more.
A friend offered me a theory about it: with maybe 250-million Americans suddenly using the toilet 24/7 at home rather than at their place of work or school or play, they now need more TP at home than they used to, and snatched up all they could. I don’t know whether this explains the inexplicable or not, but it’s as good as anything.
By the way, at risk of sending you soaring to a higher level of anxiety, I went last week to my local Costco and guess what they were out of, all over again?! Uh-huh, TP.
If you’d seen a movie about this pandemic and all its awful upshots just six months ago, you would have called it Science Fiction. A death toll, in a mere six months, already three times as high through a decade of war for American soldiers in Vietnam, and this war hasn’t ended. Funerals without mourners. Semi-trucks outside hospitals, doubling as morgues. And because of the world’s worst scale of infections, most major nations, from Europe to Asia to our very own hemisphere, not just telling us “Yankee go home,” but “Don’t even think about coming because we won’t let you in.”
Plus, to heap affront upon affront, camouflaged troops clashing with citizens from coast to coast. And for the national pastime, cardboard cutouts filling the seats of live fans.
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks? Not til next year. Maybe.
And then there’s the economy. With the biggest drop in history for America’s Gross Domestic Product, some see shades of the Great Depression. Bankruptcies from Hertz to Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers to Payless, and tens of thousands of small businesses you’ll never see again.
Moreover, how will we keep modestly paid nurses and teachers and grocery store clerks in their occupations when suddenly, if involuntarily, they have become “essential workers” where their risks of fatal infection are elevated just by doing their jobs?
And, not just incidentally, no matter how critical it has been, how will our economy survive the disbursement of trillions to keep people on their feet?
Like the disagreeable dearth of toilet paper, we can laugh about the little things. Dogs, with more company than before and more walks than ever, are thrilled. Nail polish sales are way up as women want to brush it on at home rather than enter a salon. Lipstick sales way down, because lipstick and masks don’t mix. Anyway, if a woman’s wearing a mask, why would she bother with lipstick?
But most isn’t laughable at all. From business to recreation to education at every level, some things looking down the road are going to look decidedly different. Maybe though, there’s a silver lining. Maybe, although we were forced into these changes, some will actually look better. As Plato wrote in his dialogue Republic, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Futurist Rohit Bhargava recently laid it out for the Vail Symposium: “One of the biggest effects of the disruption we are facing today is the acceleration of ideas. Distance learning, ghost restaurants, e-sports, telemedicine, streaming entertainment, videoconferencing, and more than a dozen other futuristic ideas are now becoming daily realities and going mainstream.”
But that doesn’t solve the mess we’re in right now. Our downtowns won’t be ghost towns forever, but how is the street vendor I read about in The New York Times going to survive by selling about ten hot dogs a day outside Rockefeller Center, versus roughly 400 every day before the pandemic? And how is civil discourse going to survive when those of us who want everyone in any crowded place to wear masks feel naked hostility toward those who don’t… while they feel equally hostile toward us because we are threatening their right to… what… be barefaced?
The Founding Fathers, if their statues are still standing, must be turning in their graves.
We’d like to think of some of these dreadful byproducts as short-term, but we really don’t know. How long will it take to develop an effective vaccine? And when someone does, for how long will it actually protect us? How much time will they need to produce billions of doses to prevent a whole new global spread? And what about the people who say they won’t take it?
We’ve come a long way since the world first turned upside-down, when something that got canceled in March got rescheduled for May because “It just can’t last longer than that.” Until May got rescheduled to July and then that got cancelled, and now events set for December are indefinitely postponed too. Schools? You can’t even begin to place a safe bet. But you can take Google’s announcement as a hint: employees can be working at home at least until July next year. They won’t be the only ones.
Heaven help us, we haven’t had our last Zoom calls.
It is clearer every day that for a long time to come, we’ll be saying that yesterday was a long year. It really doesn’t seem like Sunday any more.