Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, though the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
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March 26: A person I know is pretty sick. I’m not sure if they have coronavirus, but earlier in the week they said they thought they had it. They live in a state where testing is not widely available yet and they aren’t in what we’ve been told are the vulnerable groups, so they’re just guessing. They seem OK for now, but the only thing anyone seems to know is just how little we all know about all of this.
Another person I know happens to be an infectious disease doctor and researcher. We’ve never met in person but we had tentative plans to do so around Memorial Day. He told me today that “few credible thinkers believe we’ll be out of this mess by late May,” so his travel and our dinner plans are out the window. If that’s all we lose, good for us, but it likely won’t be all we lose. All of us, eventually, will know someone or will be someone affected by this directly, medically. Most of them/us will get better and be fine. Some won’t. I don’t think most of us are prepared for that yet. For most of us it’s still a thing that’s happening “out there” and is not yet happening to us or close to us.
We live in a time in which may of us live isolated lives. That’s partially attributable to the general alienation of our age, but some of it is by choice and design. A lot of us — maybe most of us — lead relatively singular and individualized lives due to the way in which we are taught to conceive of ourselves or in the way in which we present ourselves. We have social media identities. We’ve been told we’re unique and special for most of our lives. We live an individual sort of existence, not a collective or communal existence, even if we are surrounded by a lot of people. We’re all at one of those silent raves with the headphones on, dancing on our own amidst a big crowd while not really connecting with it.
I’m not one of those people who decry this development — we are what we are and, despite what some say, there are some benefits to that mode of humanity — but I do think it causes us to miss or even be willingly blind to the suffering of others. I don’t think it prepares us well for death at all. When you write your own script, as so many of us do or at least think we do, and an element of tragedy enters the plot in a place we did not expect it to, it throws the story off the rails. So many of us are about to discover that we’re far from being the sole authors of our lives.
I did my best to detach today. At least for me. I read the news and tweeted some angry and intemperate things, but less so than usual. What I tried very hard to do was to not get sucked down into the muck and the darkness of the news, particularly on social media. Yes, information lives in that muck and information is important, but so too is the maintenance of one’s mental health. It’s become cliche advice by now, but in a time when we’re all stuck at home, living online more than we ever have before, it’s important to step away from the scroll. From the news. From everyone else’s anxiety which, in turn, increases our own. Take a break now and then. The darkness will still be there tomorrow.
There’s a man named Dave who has been reading my stuff for a while. He reached out to me last year before taking a road trip that took him through West Virginia and, knowing I am from West Virginia, asked for some travel tips. I gave him some and we had a couple of pleasant exchanges. A few weeks later I received a package in the mail containing a book that Dave, based on reading stuff I wrote, knew would be up my alley, a minor league team t-shirt that he also knew would be up my alley, and a bottle of bourbon, the brand of which I had mentioned in passing as one of my favorites and which I could not get in Ohio. Which was definitely up my alley. It was a wonderful thing for him to do. Since then we have exchanged some missives back and forth.
This morning I heard the UPS man stop out front. I went out and there was a box, again from Dave, containing another bottle of that hard-for-me-to-get bourbon. Inside he put a note thanking me “for the writings, insights, and correspondence” and wishing my family and me good health. We exchanged emails again today. Dave has not just been sending weird hermit writers bourbon. He has been helping in his community with food banks and providing assistance to restaurant servers who are out of work (Dave’s daughter, in another city, is a server who has found herself in the same predicament). Dave is modest about all of that — he says it’s not much — but if his generosity of spirit is any indication, he’s doing great things.
It’s hard to avoid everything that is negative right now because, basically, everything is negative, but looking at positive things and positive people for even a brief time helps.