And there will be a huge movement to help convince ourselves that what we’ve just experienced was not that bad – that we didn’t really see what we thought we saw. That the news was histrionic. Our leader, the Great American Marketer ( you can’t make his stuff up) didn’t try to argue science by pushing an unproven miracle drug like a late-night infomercial salesman with the physician head of the WHO (they weren’t really that far apart in what they were saying). We will wonder whether the hospitals were or perhaps were not war zones. The numbers were likely overestimated by radicals. Fake news. We didn’t actually see Wisconsinites in masks standing in the rain 6 feet apart to vote. We didn’t see inequality in America. We didn’t see indifference. Not here… We didn’t see…
But we did see. I need you to really see.
We are about to be gaslit in a truly unprecedented way. It will start with a check signed by the Great Emancipator for $1,200. Perhaps your unemployment check will exceed your regular paycheck. Perhaps your business loans will be forgiven. “See. It wasn’t THAT bad.” The combination of mass media spin and government pressure will be funded like no other marketing campaign ever before and will unlikely be repeated in our lifetimes. The return to “normal” will be heralded in the media, the churches, and the speaker’s platforms. All hail the New Normal.
But for some, it was indeed that bad. Really, really bad. Unconsolably bad. For some it was life-shattering.
There will certainly be lessons learned from the post-mortem that will follow. We did a lot of things exactly right. A lot of lives were saved by sheltering in place those that were most vulnerable to this virus so that they all didn’t hit the ERs and ICUs simultaneously forcing providers to decide who did or not receive life-preserving care. No one wants to be put in the position where that call has to be made. We are human. We are not gods who omnipotently decide the fate of others without repercussions.
There were a lot of things that could have been better- a lot better. In my naivete, I truly believed that somewhere in an abandoned salt mine in the mid-west were stored enough ventilators and Haz-Mat suits to supply every health care worker in the world ten times over. I thought field hospitals would be able to be set up in days from the onset of a nuclear attack on a dozen major cities. I was wrong. We were asleep at the switch. I watched Bill Gates’ current TED talk. In 2015 he predicted this sort of pandemic. I kept waiting for him to jump out of his seat and yell, “I told you this would happen. I told you so!” I just hope in 2025 he doesn’t give another TED talk with the theme of “Here we go again.”
We have unconscionably lost many true heroes. Healthcare workers professionally did their best to help others without the right tools or personal protection. They were sent, due to our unpreparedness, like a platoon to battle without weapons knowing there would be no rescue mission coming for them. Many died. Those deaths are a tragedy. They are an oppressing weight on our collective soul. We could have prioritized so much better.
I am brave. I have no desire to be a hero. Because being a hero means some other person will be telling my grandkids of the work I did. Heroes don’t often tell their own tale. Healthcare workers are professionals. And I don’t just mean the providers and nurses, but all of us – the technicians, the support staff, and scientists, the transport workers, the aides, the receptionists, and the maintenance crew. It needs to be extended to the grocery workers, transportation workers, police and fire, pharmacy techs and news personnel. And so many others… They do what they were trained to do. I could not help but wonder how the doctors of prior epidemics must have felt, battling an enemy they could understand far less well than we do this.
For it is especially healthcare workers who are the most front-line exposed. They brought and continue to bring calm to a storm, organization to chaos, hope in the midst of swirling darkness. They deserve the right to tell their own story. They do not want to be heroes. They are way too precious to be thrown in harm’s way due to poor planning. No more heroes. Please. No more heroes.
From one human being to another, I beseech you: take a deep breath; ignore the oncoming, deafening noise. Thoughtfully appraise what you want to re-instill into your life after this forced pause in the hamster wheel of life. I am lucky. Life has given me ample time to reflect. I am comfortable in my solitude; at peace with myself. I am able to shut out the noise of life without ceasing to truly live. It is an acquired but rich, special taste.
This is our chance to define a new version of what “normal” should be. It is a matchless and truly blessed(yes, blessed) opportunity to get rid of the bullshit and to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives richer, what makes our kids happier, what makes us truly human.
Much of our lives were canceled. Much of what matters can never be canceled. We care deeply about one another. That is clear. Love was not canceled; relationships still matter. Dancing, and laughter, quiet moments of reading and reflection, deep restful sleep, and time to really spend on a project were not canceled. Witness every supportive Facebook, Twitter or Snap post and every meal dropped off for a neighbor. It was present in every Zoom birthday party, seder or mass celebrated with far-flung friends. We are a good people. And as such, we need to define — on our own terms — what this country and our lives look like 5, 10, and, yes, 50 years from now. This is our chance to do that, the biggest one we have ever gotten and the best chance we ever will get.
We can do that on a personal scale in our homes, in how we choose to spend our family time on nights and weekends, what we watch, what we listen to, what we eat, and how and where we choose to invest our money and time. We can do this in how we focus our passion. We can manifest it locally in our communities, in what organizations we support, what truths we tell, and what events we sponsor. And we can do it nationally in our government, in which leaders we vote in and to whom we give power. If we want cleaner air, we can make it happen. (The air really is cleaner – birds and fishes are returning to places not seen in a hundred years.) If we want to protect our doctors and nurses from the next virus — and protect all Americans — we can and we must make it happen. If we want our neighbors and friends to earn a dignified income, we can make that happen. If we want millions of kids to be able to eat if suddenly their school is closed, we can make that happen. If better education and equality are our goals, let’s make them higher priorities. And, yes, if we just want to live a simpler life, we can make that happen, too. But only if we resist the massive gaslighting that is about to come.
It’s on its way.
April 15, 2020