Notes on the new normal
One of the first things I did back in January, when it was clear that Coronavirus was not “totally under control” as our President claimed, was download a book about foraging wild plants in the mid-Atlantic region. At the outset of a crisis that quickly took over the world and turned it into a real time, poorly written apocalyptic novel, where the author has no clear handle on plot, character, climax or point of view – it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. As did updating my will, researching bows and arrows on Amazon to see which one was best suited for hunting pigeons, filling up every empty bottle and jug with water. Oh and buying a generator.
These measures may seem extreme, but these are extreme times and even if I don’t use any of these survival tools, they make me feel safer in an unsafe world. As we continue our quarantines (for me, on April 13th, because of a “flu” in late February, it is now day 44) we are all becoming survivalists. We are living in a time of increased self-dependency, becoming our own doctors, teachers, day-care centers, therapists, plumbers, entertainers and IT specialists.
While becoming more self-sufficient is usually a good thing, at this particular moment in history, it is actually a devastating necessity – created by a virus that reveals just how fragile our economic, health, economic and political systems really are.
The irony here, already acknowledged by many politicians and pundits, is that we need to come together by isolating ourselves if we want to get back to “normal”. However, isolation tends to make us increasingly protective of our communities, our states, and our countries, which can feed an “us against them” mentality – especially one fostered by a President who is increasingly running out of people to blame.
The President’s political success hinges on his ability to vilify a face, give it a nickname and rally his supporters into a maelstrom of hate. But there is no face this time, no insulting nickname, no rally. And the lack of a federal plan to get us out, physically and economically, means that, for the most part, we are on our own.
Certainly there are stories of kindness and courage out there as the best of us risk our own health to help others. If it weren’t for the selfless nature of our nurses, doctors, first responders, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers and warehouse workers, we would have to be even more self-sufficient than we’ve already become. Another great irony here is that some of our lowest paid workers are putting themselves at the greatest risk.
Most of us will come through this. Many will not. And when we do, we cannot forget (as the President suggests we do) all we have learned. Not just our foraging and survival skills, but all the systematic weaknesses that have been brewing for decades, now fully exposed, as naked as this emperor with no clothes.
As it continues to reveal our vulnerabilities, it will begin to also reveal our strengths, as individuals, communities, countries and as a planet. Some of those strengths we’ve already realized. Others we don’t know yet and may not until this is over. When it is, my guess is that our prolonged isolation, in which we witness and experience so much unnecessary suffering, will foster a new appreciation for our friends, colleagues, minimum-wage workers and freedom.
What we do with that freedom will determine whether so many have died and suffered in vain, or if we will honor them by coming together to change the unjust, incompetent and entitled systems that continue to prioritize greed over basic human rights.