The stores have empty shelves. The roads are almost barren. The markets whirl like an amusement park ride. When humans emerge from their dwellings, they do so with the furtive movement of rats, squinting in the bright sun. Welcome to CoronaWorld.
Remember, if you can, what the world was like two weeks ago. Yes, COVID-19 was here, and yes it was a real problem. But two weeks ago, the stores were still full of toilet paper, and we could still eat at our favorite restaurants. If you are reading this, and are not living in an area affected by the shut-down of most public spaces, brace yourselves, because it is coming.
I’ve cautiously followed Coronavirus since February, watching with growing concern as it spread, slowly at first, and then with accelerating speed, across the world. But it wasn’t until Friday that the whole crazy mess finally penetrated beyond my cognitive drivers to settle deep within “I”.
I work for a corporation that operates multiple school bus companies across Illinois. On Friday, when the state shut down all schools for two weeks, all of the drivers for our company were suddenly without work. I thought that surely, I, too, would be furloughed, as all of our clients are shut down, leaving me with little-to-no real work to be done. However, the corporation I work for is allowing essential office personnel (words I’d never use to describe myself) to continue working during the shutdown. For this I am deeply grateful. At the same time, I feel deep sympathy for our drivers (many of whom are friends), that are now forced to apply for unemployment to help bridge the gap until schools resume.
The other piece of this puzzle is my brother. He is a doctor who works as a hospitalist (for those who don’t know, a hospitalist is like your PC (or GP if you are a bit older), but based out of the hospital directly. The first death from COVID-19 occurred yesterday at his hospital. Yes, he wears a mask to see patients, but even so, he is on the front lines of this battle. Needless to say, Coronavirus is now a reality for me, rather than an academic abstraction.
And here’s the thing. I’d hazard a guess that close to 95% of you have stories just like mine. COIVD-19 is directly impacting your life. The reality is, Coronavirus isn’t going away any time soon, and stories like yours will become increasingly common.
Despite that, I’m experiencing a fundamental shift in the attitudes of most people that I interact with, whether in real life, or in the virtual world. The shift is this. COVID-19 isn’t a partisan issue, and the fight against it is giving the United States something that we can all work towards together. Artists are giving away free online teaching sessions, musicians are giving free online concerts, and I even heard that one famous comedian was doing standup on his lawn, allowing his daughter to heckle him. Our town is having people decorate shamrocks and place them in front windows, so that young children can do vehicle-based scavenger hunts on St. Patrick’s Day.
In much the same way that many Americans redefined themselves in the wake of 9/11, and rediscovered the community that we share, COVID-19 is similarly breaking down walls and redefining who we are as Americans. Although we may have to use social distancing to prevent further spread of this disease, we are isolating ourselves together, which draws us together even as we draw apart. I have hope that despite the tragedy of Coronavirus, some good will come from this time of shared hardship. I hope that as with the great crises of the past, the American people will orient themselves toward a single goal, and in doing so, push aside the petty distinctions that have been elevated between us since last the nation stared down a crisis.
Perhaps, you would wish that I speak more to the universal situation, but as I don’t have family or close friends living in the rest of the world, dealing with my own little corner of Earth is all I can handle at this point.
As the world draws in upon itself, and people are forced to make great sacrifices to help fight COVID-19, let us all remember one thing: we are united in our fight against Coronavirus, and whatever petty differences we had before don’t matter one iota in the face of this pandemic. Be kind to one another, and live in love, my friends.
And don’t forget- skip the Corona and go straight for the tequila.