Tales From the Pandemic

It’s Saturday, but truthfully, each day has a Groundhog’s Day-like quality to it. It may seem that way precisely because of the Covid-19 virus, but in truth, most of our lives are spent in some version of that classic movie. I mean, most of us develop routines elaborate or simplified as suits us. We have our morning routines, our work routines. You get the picture.

But we have declared that this is somehow different, probably because a new routine has been introduced and imposed upon us against our will. We wash our hands, we wear masks, we keep our distance. Since these are not chosen routines, we rebel mildly or otherwise.

I find that my days are uneven. Mostly I cope quite well. This staying at home is not a big stretch for me. I’m inclined to find comfort in home and hearth, am a bit of a loner, and family health issues keep me close. Yet, it chafes, this enforced staying in. At times.

I think a lot of people are feeling anxious because they are uncertain of what comes next, or how or if things will change forever and in what ways. Normally mature people do understand I think that uncertainty is part of the package in this thing called life. If you pay even the slightest attention to Buddhism, you probably will recall that Buddha cautioned that all life was uncertain. We are never on solid ground.

That does not of course keep us from doing our level best or even unlevel whatever that means, to make a lot of certainty in our lives. We buy homes, we save for retirement, we invest for the future, all assuming of course that things will go as we plan. Much of this makes sense, since a certain amount of continuity and surety are present in each life. While the sun may explode in the next several minutes, it’s a pretty safe bet it won’t. We plan accordingly.

But this is different. This is more than uncertainty, this is like someone coming into the middle of a game of Monopoly and announcing that we are going to use Shuffleboard rules to continue playing. We are confused, we understand both sets of rules but we are really not sure how to proceed.

Christianity offers us little more than the Buddha. While we believe (if we indeed do believe) that our end is assured but up to that point, well, we’re back in the uncertainty aren’t we?  Some people of course try to fit that round peg in the square hole. Some people cannot live with the anxiety of uncertainty and these people fall victim to anything that promises an                               end to worry about tomorrow.

Fundamentalists are such people, desperate for surety in an unsure world, they fall victim to absolutes. They want desperately to live in a world of white or black and hate grey–grey seems so uncertain and well, it has so many tones, so many degrees of greyness, so many places for pesky facts that don’t fit to hide. This sort of mind becomes a genius as compartmentalizing. It develops the ability to believe something, and lock it in a secure place in the mind where it remains untouched by those “other” pesky thoughts. It holds with ease contradictory thoughts all the time, and never is faced with the need to reconcile.

These folks perhaps sense that this virus will force them to confront uncertainty in a way that literally terrifies them, and I guess that is how we get to people spitting on others because they have had the temerity to ask them to put on a mask or keep their distance. It causes them to show up with guns at statehouses while masked and demand the right to risk their lives to work. They cannot and will not confront the cognitive dissonance that is screaming to get out in their minds. They cannot begin to wonder at why “the wealthiest country in the world” is unwilling to care for it’s own people.

The rest of us, aware that life is nothing but uncertainty can handle this a bit better, but I’m learning that that doesn’t entirely let us off the hook. We have a lot to work out in the coming weeks and months too.

Life will resume, at least for some years (even if it is the killer virus that takes down humanity) and we will have to adjust. While magical thinking might lead to the conclusion that life will return as it was, that is unlikely. There will be changes in the way we do many things..

We can begin to wonder what those changes will be but I suspect it’s an exercise in futility at this point. Things are too new and fragile to be turned into new behaviors quite yet. Some we come up with will probably become our new normal, but there will be plenty we have not thought of nor can think of yet.

What is driving me up the wall today is not the changes and what they will be, but the entirely new way I have to make them. We have lived in a world where our decisions were based on things like finances, location, time, family concerns, age, health and so on.

We may have to factor in new things like ethical considerations as part of our daily decision making. For instance my decision about dog grooming. The dog surely needs it, and I can find no reason to conclude he will be endangered. So I’m okay so far. I can use a service that comes to my home. I can arrange to have no contact with the groomer and to have the dog lifted into the yard sans collar and leash which can be left to sit on the fence for a couple of days.

But here’s the dilemma. People are stressed by bills they cannot pay, and increasingly with food pressure. If offered a return to work, they cannot refuse. In some places they are not allowed to wear masks! So I have an ethical responsibility to NOT be a customer. If there are no customers, then they can avoid working in higher risk jobs hopefully. I can’t control much, only my not putting them at risk.

We have entered the place of I can, but should I? The should I or shouldn’t I will be the “new normal” in many things. We shall see how we do. All will be tested as to our social responsibility to others. Some will of course ignore it all, and some will be paralyzed with indecision. It will not be easy.

It would be wonderful to think that “we are all in this together”. During national an localized tragedies of all sorts, we have in the past done so. We’ve pulled together, sacrificed for the good of all, and offered our service to one degree or another. We have no such leader for that these days. We have been confronted with the ugly truth that one man’s raging insanity works against us in every way. Those who follow him are infected with his mindset. Such is what happens between cult leader and cult followers. They become so unhinged themselves that they literally will offer their very lives (demands to go back to work!) for the leader.

We will have to work around such people as best we can, for few are likely to change their thinking. It is simply more than their minds can handle.

I hope we are up for it. Each of us will have to some extent find our own way through this, and take some peace in knowing that others are like us and we are helping each other. I know that some are not up to it. Requiring them to live in a different way will be the last straw for them, they will blow up. I think this explains the inexplicable of someone killing another because they asked you to wear a mask.

Anyway, that’s my misery today. I have come to terms with the fact that life will never be the same, but it’s having no clue what the new rules will be that I am struggling with. As with many things, time will tell, and since we are on the bandwagon–take it one day at a time, enjoy what you can, think good thoughts as much as you can, and find ways to connect.