Unprecedented, that is the word for the pandemic experience. It is a hard word to live with because it means we don’t have a map for what to expect. Humans like maps and patterns and predictability. If A happens then B is likely to follow since that is what usually happens. I see this longing for predictability in news posts and graphs. The graph of the current state of Covid-19 in the US is compared to graphs from other countries: Italy, China, Singapore. These were the unwitting trailblazers. Their experiences are the only signposts we have in the fog. “We’re mapped to Italy, but about 11 days behind.” “We can get the Singapore graph if we’re more stringent about isolating.” Only US culture, geography, and necessity means that our graph will be our own, perhaps similar to some of the other graphs, but still unique. It will be the job of future historian/statisticians to explain to us why our graph looked the way it did. Why some segments of population were so much more impacted than others. From this end of the experience, explanations aren’t yet possible, only predictions and decisions.
On a smaller scale, I’m watching realization play out in the minds and hearts of people. For me the reality that the future is forever different first hit on March 11. I’ve had to re-recognize that experience as I try to come to terms with it. As I face the fact that there is no going back to the way things were, not even if the virus magically vanished over night. For my daughter, newly married and living with her husband in her father-in-law’s house, the realization hit on March 15. I’m watching others make the realization now. And I’m in communication with people who are still making plans for June and July in ways that suggest they think that normality will be restored before then. I see posts from people and recognize the emotional place I was in a week ago or two weeks ago. I’m sure others read my posts and recognize my emotional stage as something they’ve already been through. This is a rolling, growing, expanding crisis. My neighbor is one week behind me emotionally, which means I can empathize and be kind in helping them deal with where they are at. Italy is ten days ahead of us in crisis, which gives us a signpost and means government leaders have graphs to argue over as they try to decide whether to hold course or to swerve yet again.
A thing I saw on twitter and retweeted feels very true to me:
“It’s a trolley problem, see… if we stay the course we’ll hit all those old people, if we swerve too hard we could hit all those poor people.”
“Wait, who tied all those poor people to the tracks?”
“Not now, we’re in a crisis!”
We’re all on the tracks waiting to see if a trolley will hit us, if it will hit someone else, if collective action has made the trolleys evaporate, or if there are multiple trolleys and impact is inevitable. Government is frantically trying to put together legislation to get people off the tracks and frantically trying to convince people to stay home and remove themselves from the tracks. Only time will tell which actions saved lives and which caused them to be lost.
I suspect I have entirely too many metaphors in this post, ships and fog and trolleys and signposts. Which pretty much matches my state of mind, so I’m going to let the writing stand as it is and go think about other things for a bit. We have an in-home church service to run later today and a Skype call with my daughter to arrange so that she feels less exiled from her family by quarantine. No matter what the situation is or what the outcome will be, we have to help each other through it. That is how we survive.