Friday, March 13, 2020

Covid-19 Is Breaking My Heart

We all know what to do: wash your hands, cough into your elbow, stay home if you're feeling ill, avoid large crowds, especially stay away from people who are visibly sick, and maybe don't go visit grandma for the time being.

That last one depresses me beyond measure. My mother-in-law is a dementia resident of a memory ward in an assisted living facility. They have been on complete lock down for a couple weeks now. This means no visitors, they are confined to their rooms, even dining alone. No group activities are permitted, not even getting together for a hand or two of cards. I haven't had the courage to ask her, but I suspect, if given a choice, she would rather risk death than suffer much more of this kind of isolation.

Before you jump down my throat, please know that I understand why these steps have been taken. I understand that we are keeping everyone safe, that we are trying to prevent the chaos of suddenly overwhelmed hospitals. And please understand that I've not undertaken action to illicitly "free" my mother-in-law, although I've sure thought about it. My heart is simply breaking at what this is doing to people like her, already isolated, and now fully isolated from all but the bare minimum of human contact, and that with overworked care takers. I know I'd be climbing the walls and I don't have dementia.

I hear those of you with compromised immune systems. I don't want you to get sick. I have asthma myself, but my heart is already breaking for all those families whose incomes have been suddenly slashed by this. Already, family businesses have been forced to permanently close in my area due to the effort to keep us safe. I'm afraid we will soon see how many of our cherished local institutions right across the country were already teetering on the financial edge. There will be thousands of bankruptcies, not to mention the individuals who have seen their retirement savings wiped out by the stock market crash. And even those of us who are able to ride it out will struggle and even suffer as we tighten our belts, not necessarily to save ourselves, but to do what is right.

Closing schools and libraries is necessary right now. It seems that children usually don't show symptoms and so spread the virus without knowing it, but "social distancing" is not healthy either. I understand the logic behind it, but it holds the real potential to be worse than the disease it's intended to prevent. It's bad for children, it's bad for adults, and it's even bad for introverts. We need to live in the physical presence of real people. "Social distancing" sounds like the set up for dystopia. It might be necessary in the short term, but it's not sustainable for weeks and months. It breaks my heart thinking about what this might do to our already fragmented society.

It is selfish for young, healthy people to be taking advantage of cut rate airfares and discounted hotel rooms to go on holiday trips, but that doesn't mean I don't understand why they might want to grab a rare opportunity to do something that is otherwise unaffordable. What really breaks my heart are the wealthy speculators who will be seizing this opportunity to make themselves even wealthier, profiteering by buying up the remnants of working class lives that have been destroyed, purchasing their dreams for pennies on the dollar. This is what author Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism." It happened in the aftermath of 9/11, the 2008 recession, and it is happening now. These are the people who really deserve our disdain.

It breaks my heart that this crisis is being used to fuel the fires of racism.

It breaks my heart when I find people pitted against one another, arguing about who is really taking the most noble or ethical or moral or socially conscious or scientifically sound attitude about all of this. My lord, these are unprecedented times, at least for those of us alive today. I'm struggling every day trying to figure out how to live with this, how to think of this, what I'm going to do and be during this time of crisis. Just in the last couple days, I've swung from black humor to outrage. Sometimes I think I need to get out there anyway and support my local businesses. Sometimes I want to gather all the children together for a massive bath of "social closeness" in defiance of this virus that is driving us apart. Sometimes I want to buy those cheap tickets myself.

One attitude I haven't tried on yet is the one of fear, but maybe that's coming. Mostly, I'm feeling heartbroken and I expect I'm going to be feeling that way for some time to come.

And that's what I'm telling children about this. I'm telling them that it makes me feel sad. I'm telling them that they themselves are not likely to get very sick, that their young healthy parents aren't likely to get very sick, but that some people will and it's our job, all of us, to protect them right now by taking special precautions. I tell them about how we have no choice but to trust one another, even if those other people aren't doing exactly what we would have them do or saying the things we want them to say or feeling the feelings we want them to feel. In the spirit of Mister Rogers, I invite them to think about the helpers, the doctors, nurses, care takers and others who are caring for those who are sick, preparing for them, educating us. I suppose one can take the view that cancelling March Madness or closing movie theaters is an act of fear, but one can also just as easily see this as an amazing act of solidarity, human beings sacrificing for one another on a massive scale. Look what we are doing for us! Sure there are those who will be selfish, but most of us, together, are doing the right thing, even if it makes us sad.

There is a light at the end of this tunnel, although no one knows how far away it is. We will come out on the other side and there will be damage we need to fix, together.

In the meantime, we are all struggling. We are all trying to figure out how to live through these times in which we find ourselves. It's a time to be gentle with one another, to trust one another, to work together in solidarity in crisis. In a few months or years I hope we look back and have a chuckle about how much we overreacted: that will tell me that what we are doing now has worked. That is the power of us.

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