[Editor's Note: I have a lot of time at home right now for obvious reasons, and I thought I'd journal my experience with the pandemic, both to process and as a record. In college I read Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year and it really stuck with me, so that's an inspiration here.]
It's hard to tell which day it was that the reality of the virus hit me. Weeks ago my wife started stocking up on medicine and food items, and I gently mocked her for it. She is always quicker than me to get anxious about public events, so my default is usually to be the brake, in order to keep her from spiraling. The day I heard about Lombardy being shut down I told her she was right all along and I was stupid for doubting her. (Married people are aware of what a big deal it is to make such a statement conceding your wrong judgement to your spouse.)
Early this week we were calm because we had been prepared. The leaders of the school where I teach had also started making plans, so I felt prepared in my job as well. When we had a meeting after school on Monday we were still talking about school closure as a strong possibility after spring break, which was to begin the next week. By the next day the calculus had already shifted, and by the end of the day we learned that the students would be away on Thursday while the faculty planned, and Friday we would be going remote, right before spring break. Meanwhile, each day I commuted by train from New Jersey the number of people riding in got fewer and fewer.
I thought Friday went well, and I was filled with a greater feeling of optimism than I had known in a long time. Whenever one confronts a problem instead of avoiding it, one feels a deep sense of security and control. I was glad other schools were cancelling, I had the feeling that we as a nation had finally gotten serious about this.
This was important because the leadership from the top of the nation has been nothing but a complete shitshow. The president had to finally admit something was wrong, after weeks of talking about a "hoax." His address to the country on Wednesday night was not only a disaster, he seemed completely incapable of matching his emotional affect to the seriousness of the topic. His breathing and speaking were extremely labored, a product of illness, obesity, or both. He seemed to imply that trade with Europe was being cut off, and the market responded by plunging the next day.
I did not watch his press conference from the Rose Garden yesterday. I was too busy running my online classes and watching my kids, and I wasn't sure my psyche could take another look at this man's complete incompetence in the face of deadly catastrophe. Surreally, his words actually soothed the markets. The corporate overlords just want to make sure that they were protected, and he assured them of that. Meanwhile, the Senate went on recess over the weekend.
That reflected a widespread lack of seriousness about this crisis. I have heard and seen it everywhere. Some of it is politically motivated, like the conservative family member claiming "H1N1 under Obama was worse." Some of it is refusal to alter life patterns, like the friends who went to a crowded restaurant last night. As for my part, I decided to make this morning the last major day out. I went to the barber because I was way overdue for a haircut and beard trim. I also reasoned that they would be a business badly hit by this crisis, and if I was going to get a haircut I should do it ASAP before things got worse. I also made sure to give an extra large tip. Of course I had to hear an insufferable man in the next chair complain that we were all just overreacting to the situation.
From there I went to the local Polish butcher and Asian supermarket. We had stocked up on things, but we needed variety and some fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables. Both places were fully stocked and both were not busy. The only issue I had was that the Asian market was sold out of Daikon radishes, but my wife (who had gone with the kids to visit her parents) managed to get some at the Korean produce market hear where they live. We will be having banh mi for dinner tomorrow. The fact that Whole Foods and Trader Joe's locally were sold out on Friday made me laugh. The basic bougie folk of suburbia have horizons that are far too narrow.
I should add that before I went to the butcher I stopped into a Catholic church around the corner, which had a sign on the door announcing it was not hosting masses this weekend. My religious situation is pretty ambivalent. I guess I am an agnostic lapsed Catholic who attends Episcopal services from time to time. I don't know if someone is on the other side of the line, but I still pray. I went into the church and prayed for a bit while someone was practicing some pretty sublime music on piano. I prayed that the people facing this crisis would have strength and wisdom.
What I saw later today made me realize how relevant my prayer was. It seems that the nation's bars are jammed, that a great many people are releasing the tension of the current moment by going out and trying to be with other people. At this point I wonder why I am reconfiguring my entire job as a teacher when these other people can't be bothered to stay away from the bar. Of course, the bigger problem comes from the lack of government action to regulate all this stuff and give all of us a sense of what we should actually be DOING.
For now I guess I will have to use my spring break putting my courses online and keeping my children entertained. We have already drawn up a calendar for the "school" day. I am the opposite of a homebody, so I am get a feeling that social distancing is going to take a toll on my psyche.
While the fact that I feel like I am doing something to improve the situation is helping, the nagging anxieties won't go away. I keep thinking there's a good chance that someone I love will die, and I will not even be able to go to their funeral. That thought haunts my waking hours. In the meantime, I try to stay busy and have fun with my family. What else can be done?
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