This Has Been a Test

This Has Been a Test December 14, 2020

My family will not be together for Christmas this year. We are too spread out, across two continents, and it would be unsafe and imprudent to travel, due to the dangers of the pandemic. We have not asked the question “are we allowed to travel” but rather “would it be right or wise to travel?” And unfortunately, the answer is “no.”

Yes, probably with extreme caution, advance testing, and careful quarantining it would be fine. But that is not the point. We must think beyond what is fine for us and think about what is fine for everyone. In a pandemic, personal actions are rarely simply personal actions. This is true when there isn’t a pandemic as well, of course. The pandemic just brings it home. This truth has been brought home fatally to the nearly three hundred thousand dead, and the countless others who mourn them. It has been brought home, as well, to all who have lost income or even their jobs, those who face poverty and eviction, because others couldn’t be bothered to be safe – and because we have repeatedly elected officials with a record of serving corporations, not persons.

It would be wrong, in the face of this, for us to seize what little security has been won by the sacrifice of others and waste it on small pleasures. Any little security available now belongs by rights to health care workers and those in exceedingly vulnerable situations.

So, we stay home, and plan a lot of video messenger meetings.

I am not happy about this. I am angry, as well, because it did not have to be this way.

This is not something that simply happened, which I should accept the way I accept weather or old age. People created this situation. If, for the past nine months, others at home and abroad had acted with care for others, and if our elected officials had created plans both to stop the spread and care for the poor and isolated, we could have contained the pandemic enough to be able to travel safely.

For the most part, the sacrifices we had to make were not even great. Those in cities probably had it hardest, being confined to small apartments with few opportunities to get out and even take a walk. Yet many did this. They stayed home. Some lost income. Many deprived themselves of restaurants, cafes, and bars, for the sake of public health. It’s terrible that the rest of the nation, instead of building on their good work, ignored what they’d been through, and squandered what little safety was won.

If this has been a test of our national ability to come together and respond well to a crisis, we have failed.

What will happen if another pandemic comes along – which it likely will – that is more lethal, and more contagious? What if we find ourselves once again in an extreme economic depression, or world war, and are asked to make the sacrifices our ancestors made? I don’t think we will be able to do it.

Collectively, we have made the Ugly American trope come true. We are not a strong, tough people. We can’t handle hardship, or sacrifice. We are not brave, smart, or considerate. We are a society of spoiled brats unable to see beyond our immediate desires.

Yet how many who couldn’t handle staying home, who whined about not being able to hug their parents, would be the first to share a meme mocking “these spoiled kids today”? How many who couldn’t handle being alone for a few weeks would be quick to mock LGBTQ persons for seeking loving partnership? It’s the hypocrisy that tops it off. If people must be selfish and inconsiderate, they should at least admit that they’re doing so. Just go full Ayn Rand and make it their official life value.

I am worried about what is in store for us, because our ability to survive depends on our ability to work together, make sacrifices, strategize, and – above all – see beyond the present moment, envision the repercussions of what feels like a single isolated action, understand that the personal is the political. I’d like to think that my fellow citizens will learn a lesson about personal responsibility and collective action, as the numbers rise and the deaths increase. But unfortunately it seems that even when we invite disaster to our home, we pretend it broke in on us unawares.

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