A Look On The Lighter Side
The view from inside a Pandemic Paradox
When I was a child, the worst nightmare I ever had was of riding around in the backseat of my father’s car, but when I looked at the driver’s seat to see who was driving, it was empty.
That was the scariest thing I could imagine.
Never in all my days did it occur to me that there could possibly be anything worse.
And yet here we are. We are all at the mercy of a president who insists continually on his “absolute right” to do virtually anything, whether that’s firing an ambassador, building a wall or issuing himself a pardon — but who then says, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
He insists on his powers to close down the country — only to then instigate rebellions against the governors who followed his advice.
He even reminds the nation of specific powers that accrue to the presidency under the Defense Production Act. But when people are literally begging him to use them to order production of desperately needed medical tests, ventilators, masks, gowns and other protective gear, he has refused.
What we are going through as a nation is completely insane.
And things were plenty insane already.
Every morning I wake up in a panic, only to realize that the true nightmare isn’t the one I am waking from, but the one I am waking INTO. I feel the walls closing in on me as I realize afresh that my husband and I are essentially under house arrest — but with no visitors and no termination date.
I feel terribly alone.
That’s when I must forcibly remind myself that, in fact, everyone else I know is in the exact same situation. That is the crowning paradox of this pandemic — that we all feel so alone, together.
Even during World War II, a war that was truly waged all around the globe —even then, some places had it worse than others. Yet everyone everywhere right now must deal with masks, death counts and social distance.
It made me think about Winston Churchill. He is the subject of a new book, “The Splendid and the Vile,” by Erik Larson. It’s one of the most compulsively readable history books I have ever encountered.
In a recent NPR interview, Larson listed three things that made Churchill’s speeches so inspiring.
“First of all,” said Larson, “he would begin with … a sober assessment of the reality of the threat. And he would not sugarcoat. He would state as frankly as he could what was actually happening.”
By contrast, Mr. Trump has told us, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China,” and “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
Churchill’s second step was to “follow with cause for optimism … Not happy talk, but a real, rational appraisal” of what was getting done.
So, then NOT something like: “Now, the virus that we’re talking about … Typically, that will go away in April with the heat.”
Third, “Churchill would end his speeches invariably with a rhetorical flourish that would bring listeners out of their seats, just feeling like they, too, were emboldened and they were ready to do whatever was next. That’s leadership.”
Ah, leadership. Just imagine Churchill saying this to his House of Commons: “Even though large tracts of Europe … have fallen, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surren- Oh, never mind, my golf cart is here.”
I don’t know what Churchill might say about these times. But I know what I need to hear:
“This is the worst time I can remember. Not only are we facing a vicious infection that has traveled around the world and stolen from us so many precious lives. But in order to fight it, we have plunged ourselves and much of the world into an economic crisis, besides.
“The economic picture is serious — but not hopeless. The good news is that, thanks to our recent experience with the recession of 2008, we know how to come back from that.
“As for the virus — it would be dangerous to try to fool ourselves. What we are up against is real, and it is deadly, and we must treat it with the respect it demands. There is no arguing with a virus.
“But we are still America, and we are fighting back. And I am proud of you, my fellow Americans, for all the changes you have mastered in such a short time. We have people from every walk of life making huge sacrifices, but it is also true that every one of you is sacrificing something. Wearing masks, staying home, social distancing — these things seem simple, but they are hard. Unbelievably hard. And you are doing it.
“It is crucial that you know that it is not for nothing. Every time you put on that mask, every time you close your door, every time you tell someone you love ‘better not come any closer’ — with every sacrifice you make, just remember you are helping to bring us closer to that blessed day when we can look back at this time and say, ‘Truly, we have accomplished something historic — and we did it together.’ ”