Stayed home all day Saturday. Following the news online. Reading. Like waiting for a storm. Edie made chicken noodle soup. That helped.
We see what's coming. Yet it's hard to believe. Walking the dog in the morning I felt ... almost buoyant. That's weird, right? Inappropriate. But understandable too. As a child, I liked storms. And even though I tell myself this will be something bad, it doesn't feel bad, not yet. People are still prattling on about toilet paper. So a disconnect, between the mind and the heart, what I know and what I feel. Which itself is unsettling.
Human, I suppose. I believe I've been a consistent enough critic of Donald Trump in the nearly five years since he cannonballed into national and world politics that I can make one small observation that may seem in his favor without being accused of apologizing for the would-be tyrant.
His underplaying the coronavirus threat — saying it was under control, or would quickly pass — is being waved around social media as clear evidence of his utter unfitness to lead. It certainly is. The man is a buffoon, a liar, a traitor, and more. So many flaws it's wearying to even list them.
However. Closing your eyes to peril is also very human. Routine has a momentum, and we tend to want to keep it going along its intended path, even when there is an obvious bump, or detour, in the road. We don't let go of it without leaving claw marks.
At least I don't.
I remember almost 25 years ago, in July, 1995, when the Chicago heat wave was killing people across the city — as with COVID-19, also mostly the elderly — and the medical examiner was holding press conferences, outlining that day's toll of what would be nearly a thousand heat-related deaths in Chicago. Even as the bodies stacked in refrigerated trailers in the medical examiner's parking lot, I distinctly remember looking at the television and wondering, "Now, is this a real phenomenon, or just Donoghue calling every corpse that shows up at Harrison Street a 'heat-related death?' He's a showboat. I wouldn't put it past him. How could it be that many?"
It was real. This pandemic is real too. Though it doesn't seem real. Not yet.
Maybe I'm deceived by all the false alarms in the past. The predicted storms that never came. The blizzards that proved to be a dusting. Missed us. I know how people get worked up over threats that are not there, they exaggerate. Maybe that's what causes me to be reluctant to acknowledge the looming disaster. If it's to be a disaster. I'm too aware of the possibilities of panics, mistakes, mass hysteria.
There's a great story, "The Day the Dam Broke" in James Thurber's "My Life and Hard Times," where he recounts "that frightful and perilous afternoon in 1913 when the dam broke, or, to be more exact, when everybody in town thought that the dam broke."
Nobody knows how it started—perhaps a young man in high spirits breaks into a trot, or a husband remembers he is late for a lunch date with his wife. In a moment hundreds of people are running for their lives, shouting "Go East! Go East!" Even though the dam hadn't broken and, even if it had, it wouldn't have reached them in the East part of Columbus, Ohio. No matter.
"The fact that we were all as safe as kittens under a cookstove did not, however, assuage in the least the fine despair and the grotesque desperation which seized upon the residents of the East Side when the cry spread like a grass fire that the dam had given way," Thurber writes.
Astounding how quickly society shut down over the past few days. Air travel, restaurants, sporting events. Of course the thing feels like a snow day, a lark, when it should feel like ... something else. The calm before the storm. These extraordinary steps are to keep people safe, and I can't be faulted for hoping that they might work. For feeling safe.
That's the irony here, an irony worth pointing out. The more effectively we wash our hands, avoid crowds, cancel events, etc., the more blunted the pandemic might be, the more we'll feel those precautions were unnecessary, an overreaction. Even though they weren't. We'll never really know how much they helped, or what we avoided. Unless we don't avoid it. Talk about a dilemma. For some Americans, these weeks and months to come will be a time of tragedy. That's a certainty. And for the rest it'll be a story about stores being stripped of toilet paper. That too is par for the course.
"We were both ennobled and demoralized by the experience," Thurber writes. Sounds about right.
|The Thurber story was based on a real event, March 12, 1913|