So other than everything, how is it going?

Even before the pandemic, I wouldn’t always treat the question, “How are you?” as an empty exercise in good manners. If the right person asks and there is something to complain about, my answer was almost never “Fine.” Still, I also sometimes answer “Great,” in a hearty voice, mostly to show how happy I am to see the person again (or at least, the box with their face in it on my computer screen). But given the state of things in the U.S. right now, that answer seems off the rails. Who can be doing great when record numbers of Americans are contracting a disease that carries a risk of permanent disability, even death? And the risk of passing that fate to others, carrying the weight of that knowledge forever? Who can be doing great when record numbers of Americans are unemployed with every option running dry and the U.S. Senate is dominated by a man only interested in legislation that will protect businesses when they carelessly expose their employees to the disease?

Meanwhile, an election year that has been a decade long inches to a close, as voters choose between someone who has the potential to conduct a FDR-like Presidency or someone who will help us find out what would have happened if Gollum didn’t bite the ring off of Frodo’s finger. (Well, maybe we’re already finding out. I read today that the current administration is trying to undermine Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Human Rights Watch. I guess I should know better now, but it still feels so disorienting to imagine the people who orchestrate these policies. What can it be like to be so deeply indifferent to human suffering?)

So much is going wrong that I feel like a character in one of those movies when the asteroid is about to hit Earth or space invaders are filling the sky, shooting laser beams at anyone who is in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Yet unlike those movies, instead of uniting to stave off the asteroid or aliens, we are supposed to find ways to go about business as usual. Ding! My phone reminds me of my next online meeting. Kaboom! Somewhere outside my window, another one bites the dust, stricken by disease or economic despair.

I don’t know what will happen on Election Day. I’m hoping for the FDR-like guy to win, of course, preferably surfing a wave of blue. No matter who wins, a long winter lies ahead. And rebuilding the Shire may take a lifetime.

Seven months in

On March 23, 2020, I recorded the following numbers on my blog: 

341,500 identified with Covid19 worldwide; 15,187 have died. 33,018 identified in the U.S., and 428 have died.

Today, Sunday, October 11, here are the numbers:

Worldwide: Over 37.2 million cases: over 1 million deaths.
US: Over 7.7 million cases; Over 214,000 deaths.

I know we don’t have a way to process these numbers—to understand the significance of it all. I don’t know how to make sense of one death, let alone numbers at this scale. 

There was an interactive graphic on the Washington Post that let me try to connect, for a moment, with the scale of grief: 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/national/coronavirus-deaths-neighborhood/

Currently my own county has become a hotspot, and I keep reviewing in my mind how to be safer, after months of trying to be safe. How to help my children make sense of being careful even if there are people around us who aren’t.

One of the challenges, of course, is that the threat of Covid19 is not simply death, though there have been far too many. It is one of risk. Every case contracted carries the risk of more. Just look at where we were in March versus now. Every time Covid19 spreads, it doesn’t mean the person who got it will die. That person may not even experience symptoms. But they might spread it to someone who will. And these numbers don’t tell us how many people will deal with long term consequences of an illness that can harm organ function, even brain function, in ways we are not yet prepared to measure.

I stare into this landscape of grief, not just for the loss of lives but in some cases, for the loss of empathy, the numbness and indifference that some people embrace as an armor against it. I know that we still should avoid doing anything that isn’t 100% necessary. We should still embrace social connections but physically distant—ideally around 12 feet apart, outside, masks on. Or online. We can complain about life on screens but accept that this might keep us safer than the alternative.

I will keep doing what I can to be safe, and I will keep hoping that others will find their way to do so, too. It seems as if too many people prefer to fight over problems, rather than fix them. And this time, the solution is to take care of one another and to be safe for one another. How odd, too, to think that we may be saved not by some miracle vaccine or expensive treatment, but something as cheap and simple as wearing a mask.

One month (or so) in

I have wondered how to take stock of one month (or so) of the pandemic and ongoing extreme social distancing measures. There are the good parts—my family and I have fallen into something of a routine, finding ways to get things done, work, chores, hobbies, and various diversions. We’ve found ways to connect with friends and family online and (at a distance) in the neighborhood.

The hard parts, of course, are watching what seems like so much incompetence and avarice by the U.S. executive branch and its enablers in the Senate, versus the valiant efforts by people at all other levels, regardless of political affiliation, to rise to this challenge. As someone who cares deeply about protecting and exercising the right to vote, I am still reeling from what took place in Wisconsin. Truth to tell, the hardest part of this pandemic hasn’t been social distancing, nor even worrying about how everyone will recover from shutting everything down (as frightening as that can be), but the pain of reading so many reports on all that is going wrong, of the pain and suffering caused by the illness and by the economic hardships, and simultaneously the horror of knowing that there are people whose only reaction is to figure out how to grab power and money in the midst of it. There are no monsters in fiction that come close to the cruelty and depravity on display in our country right now (and alas, similar patterns are emerging in countries led by autocrats around the world). I am a bit ashamed to admit that this still surprises me. I like to see the good in people, and I believe in the radical embrace of hope in the face of daunting odds. Yet what I am forced to witness these days beggars my attempts to describe it, let alone absorb it.

I have heard that emailing our representatives in Congress is as effective these days as calling, and as a writer, email has always seemed easier to me than calling. If you care about the vote as I do, and you happen to be a citizen of the U.S., please consider emailing your representatives (or filling out their website forms) urging them to

-Pass a fourth Coronavirus relief package that includes at least $2 billion in “safe election money” and protects the U.S. post office
-Require states to invest in expanded vote by mail and early voting
-Ensure that in-person polling locations have the resources they need to operate safely and efficiently

(talking points provided by Vote Save America)