A few weeks ago, when the Coronavirus was still holed up in Central China and not the global pandemic and international catastrophe it has become, my apartment flooded. Late in the quiet hours of a worknight sleep, my wife woke me up with frantic screaming. She had gotten up to pee and stepped in it. The wet floor could be a dog-related effluvium or a spilled water cup from the nightstand, but this was too deep and too cold for that. Gurgling up from between the doorframe was clean, clear, cold water. I stayed awake all night in a cycle, alternating every towel in the house between soaking up the unknown stream and the washing machine spin-cycle.
The next day, a knowledgeable older gent came by and assessed the situation with a handheld beeping machine. It looked like a square walkie-talkie. He crawled around until he found the mischievous little sprite under our floorboards. The shower pipe had ruptured and our old tub and tiles were demolished and replaced in 48 hours. From the moment the water started spewing to my first shower after remodeling, I was as helpless as a sidewalk worm on a sunny day.
There are so many things I can’t do. There are definitely more marbles in my cannot pot than in my can can. If left to do by myself, I wouldn’t consume much. I have no livestock to eat, nor would I have the know-how, willpower or tools to slaughter them if I did. I have no garden nor farm, no fishing pole, not even an apple or orange tree nearby. I can cook because some unknown governmental benefactor sees fit to supply me with cheap, plentiful and reliable water, gas and electricity. I get ingredients because of the staggeringly complex sequence of events and chain of workers far beyond my perception who bring all the meat, eggs, fruit and veg to my local grocer.
In a simple manner of speaking, I am not well prepared to live in any world but this one, and I’ll wager most of us modern squares fit easily into this contemporary quadrangle of comfort. Specialization affords us the luxury to be oblivious. We make money by becoming experts within a narrow ability. We trade that expertise for money, which buys us our comfortable ignorance. Naturally, that indulgence comes at a cost, evidenced by the rise of modern disorders like depression and loneliness. We depend on the wisdom of others. It may be the reason humans took over the world so completely—our ability to communicate and cooperate. Humans in isolation decay quickly. In how many languages do you know their word for “friend”? I’ll bet more than you know for the word for “enemy”.
That is what is making this Coronavirus so toxic. It’s scary and invisible, but now it’s making us suspicious and anxious. Italy is closed, sport stadiums are desolate, schools are empty. Those are three places that are never quiet. What kind of world is it when we can’t trade our money or skills with others? Restaurants, stadiums, schools, museums, offices—all closed or reduced. Who’s driving this car? We need other people; we need to work. We can now clearly see how much our livelihoods are dependent on others’.
If Tom Hanks can get it, what chance do us commoners have? My unsolicited advice is to get back to work, wash your hands and hope we all make it through. We’ll be a little wiser and maybe a little more grateful for the world we’ve all made—at least for a while. We need the freedom to eat out, watch a game or concert live, shake some hands, kiss hello, ride a bus, fly to a new land, and touch our faces and phones. Paraphrasing the great Scot, William Wallace, “CoVid may take our lives, but it will never take—our freedom to rub our eyes!”
Closing everything can’t work in the long-term. Temporarily closing things now is certainly a good idea to give the overburdened health care system a chance to catch up, test, quarantine and get things cleaned up. But, eventually, we will all need to go out to spend again. Unless this little virus takes a permanent vacation, which is unlikely, it’s a part of our lives now. That is hard to write and even harder to accept. I’m teaching online now, but not every job, in fact, very few jobs can be controlled remotely.
If we don’t fix this together, that little leak on our metaphorical floor could become a flood. There’s nothing really to say about this except people are sick and it’s scary. The 1918 flu propelled America to return to normalcy with Warren G. “America’s Horniest President” Harding and the Roaring 20’s. What kind of normalcy can this world return to? Nothing is normal anymore! We should be promoting a departure away from yesterday’s normal—forward to fresh; onward to innovation; now to new. Unfortunately, before we return or depart for anything, we need to stop this virus from stopping us.