Springtime in a Plague Year

Books on books on shelves.
Photo by Tyler Quiring on Unsplash.

I turned 43 a week ago, right about the time I stopped leaving the apartment. Since then I’ve managed to get this website redesigned. I’ve finished my last two outstanding freelance projects. I have done some cooking. I’m still reading books, though slower than usual. I’ve watched too much Twitch. Played some computer games myself. Spent too much time refreshing Twitter. Only venturing out of the apartment for food and to take out the trash. The low-level, background hum of anxiety about the state of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic keeps me mostly distracted, but I’m still taking care of basic life.

My seasonal allergies are starting, and even though I take prescription antihistamines, I still get some congestion, watery eyes, scratchy throat. Though I know these are not symptoms of the plague, they still trigger some worry. I always cough for a while every morning. Sinuses reactivating after my night’s sleep. Now I cough in the mornings and … what if? What if? What if?

I’m a card-carrying introvert, and the staying in, away from people, doesn’t bother me so much. The bother comes from the news of the wider world. I worry about my country. As I’m writing this, our president is promoting the idea of ending what few mitigating measures we’ve started to contain the virus by Easter Sunday. It’s such a selfish and short-sighted idea, from a selfish, short-sighted man. According to the medical community, the virus is just getting started, and to end social isolation before it is contained in the name of saving the economy could very well destroy our society altogether.

Our society. This is something else that has been bothering me recently. Does the US have a common society? The president likes to say you can’t have a country without borders, but can you have a country without a society? We are all affected by this virus, but we don’t have the social backbone (safety net, whatever you want to call it) to weather this kind of event without catastrophic consequences for our people. No universal healthcare, no universal basic income, no mandated paid sick leave, no robust federal mechanisms in place to deal with a country-wide emergency like this. Are we a true modern society if our government doesn’t provide for our basic needs when disaster strikes?

Some of the things I’ve read about that cities are doing in the face of this plague are steps in this direction. I’ve read about cities procuring hotel rooms and other shelters for their homeless population. I’ve read about pollution dissipating in cities while people are avoiding unnecessary travel. I’ve read about people adopting and fostering shelter pets in record numbers. I’ve read about people adding food and hygiene products to neighborhood little free libraries. And so many artists and writers and musicians providing free live streams and concerts and readings during the quarantine.

The hope I have is that an event like a pandemic that doesn’t abide borders or skin color or heritage or religion or orientation might show everyone that we are all in this together. We can be a society if we want to. If we want free college or universal healthcare, we can have it. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why any citizen of a society wouldn’t want their fellow citizens to thrive. Maybe that’s just the evil of competition in a capitalist society. This is a ramble, and I don’t have answers.

What I do know is the lockdown starts in Asheville tonight. We have food and toilet paper and Tylenol and the Internet. And I’m afraid for our American society, such that it is. I’m afraid it will change, and I’m afraid that it won’t.