8/24 Covid-19 Update: "Perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness"
2,757.6 miles, five states, several magical hot springs, and zero (!!) speeding tickets later, I’m back home in Seattle.
I tiptoed my way back onto the grid the last few nights of my vacation because I forced Stephanie to tell me who Biden picked as his running mate, and I didn’t want to miss Kamala’s speech. And to be honest – at that point the inner voice that I was letting dictate my daily agenda really wanted a hotel bed and a Sex and the City marathon. Who was I to stand in her way?
I’ve always loved political conventions (I distinctly remember watching the ’88 convention in the playroom in our house where we had this tiny TV hooked up). I know they’re cheesy, and scripted to within an inch of their life, and the jokes fall flat. But I can’t help it – they entertain me. Something weird always happens, and someone always has an unexpectedly powerful speech, and I’m a sucker for big balloons and video montages and pop music and spectacle. I’m also just my grandmother’s granddaughter.
There were moments of Wednesday and Thursday nights that I loved -- The Chicks singing the national anthem, and the interview with Biden’s granddaughters, and Steph’s shoulder shimmy, and Hillary in her all white suit, and I cried/cheered/cried during Brayden Harrington’s just absolute rockstar inspiration of a speech. And Kamala!! She’s so smart, her niece is cool af on Twitter (RIP), she is extremely qualified, and Liz loves her… what more do I need to know? She also completely won me over during the Kavanaugh hearings, and I’m so glad there will be more Maya Rudolph in our lives.
But the thing that pulled me out of the wilderness and into the air conditioning was President Obama. I needed him to make me feel better – like there were still some reasonable adults in charge behind the scenes who were confident we were going to make it through this. I’m actually not sure if there’s anyone whose words I take more seriously than his, other than maybe Michelle (sorry, Francis). He is thoughtful, and brilliant, and measured, and humane. He acknowledges the way his thinking has evolved and makes room for complexity and contradiction.I wanted his reassurance that we were going to be okay.
But if you watched on Wednesday, you’d know that I didn’t exactly get the emotional catharsis I was looking for. The speech was more of the “our democracy is facing an existential crisis and if you’re not fucking terrified then you haven’t really been paying attention” variety – which, you know… also good?
Truthfully though, even a Come to Jesus Barack Obama Speech for the Ages didn’t even really get me fired and up and ready to go. I turned it off feeling mostly scared and angry. I drove through Yellowstone the next day wondering what was wrong with me. It’s unfortunately pretty easy to relive the shock and devastation and despair I felt the days and weeks after Trump was elected. How I swore I would never be politically complacent again. I obviously voted for Hillary, and I did a few volunteer activities here and there, but I didn’t go out my way to help her win that election. There was no way Donald Trump was going to win, so why did it matter?
And yet here we are four years later and I’m doing the exact same thing. Telling myself the exact same thing. There is no way this vile, willfully ignorant, traitorous, racist, sexist, dishonest scumbag of a human being is going to win a US presidential election twice. No way.
But I also recently had a friend encourage me to make a mental health plan in case the unimaginable happens, and even though I laughed it off at first, I’m taking her seriously now. Because the stakes actually feel that high, and nothing is guaranteed. To quote my friends Taylor Swift and Bon Iver, it seems like we’re all walking a pretty thin line right now, and the hope of November and some sanity restored to our government is one of precious few things pulling me through.
I feel complacent because it’s hard to feel excited and motivated when you’re exhausted and desensitized. I had to numb myself to mentally survive the last four years, and certainly the last six months—I think we all did in our own unique ways. But we have to figure out how to wake up now, because this nightmare has to end.
I drove around the Tetons one night hoping to see a bear, but then stopped and asked myself if I actually wanted to encounter a grizzly bear all alone. I started thinking about why grizzly bears are so mean. They’re at the top of the food chain, so maybe chill out a little? But then I remembered that their cubs aren’t at the top of the food chain. There’s a reason mama bears are notorious.
That’s how my nieces make me feel – blind fierce protective mama bear I will fight you to the death love. So if I can’t find the fire in me on my own to remember what’s at stake here, then I’ll use Charlotte and Hattie as fuel. They are going to grow up with a president who is worthy of them, not one who makes fun of people for the way they look or the way they talk. And my grandma is going to see a black woman elected to be Vice President.
That’s the mama bear energy I’m going to try to find for the next 70 days until November 3rd. If I have to listen to Hamilton every single day, so be it. Patriotism isn’t something I feel often, but I did these last two weeks. America really is a beautiful country, and I really do feel lucky to have been born here. But, as Toby Keith sang, the nation I love (or at least kind of like sometimes) has fallen under attack. That’s genuinely how it feels to me right now. I didn’t need Obama to stand in front of the literal Constitution to remind me of that, but it didn’t hurt.
I want cool, reassuring Barack Obama back (I also want President Biden to appoint him to Breyer’s seat on the Court since RBG is going to live forever, if you want to light your prayer candles with me), and the only way that happens is with getting this maniac out of the White House and stopping this pandemic.
Clear eyes. Full hearts. CAN’T LOSE. Literally.
Schools: I wish I had more information/insight for you on school reopenings. What we know is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to safely reopen schools in person – even with masks, reduced class sizes, temperature checks, etc – unless and until there is way less virus being transmitted in the community. We still need new case numbers to go down – a lot, and everywhere. If adults want kids back in schools, then they need to start behaving differently. (Speaking of schools: I was appalled and embarrassed when Notre Dame proudly announced earlier in the spring that it was going to reopen in the fall, and that science alone wasn’t sufficient to inform that decision. There was such hubris in the way it was announced – and now ND is having to pause in person education due to a covid outbreak on campus. The student newspaper printed a headline from its editors “Don’t Make Us Write Obituaries” – pleading with the administration to take the virus seriously enough to protect their professors and classmates. That really shouldn’t be necessary, should it?)
Herd immunity:A lot of the interesting science right now is around herd immunity and superspreaders --- how many people have to be infected before the virus is unable to find new hosts. There’s not a lot of agreement right now – but the more the virus is contained through social distancing, the quicker we can get to herd immunity.
Burnout: A reminder that this is a once in a lifetime experience and it’s okay that we’re not used to the new normal by now. Our way of life has been radically upended, and we used up our individual “surge capacity” that humans draw on for short-term survival several months ago. “How do you adjust to an ever-changing situation where the new normal is indefinite uncertainty?” (h/t Meg!) – “This is an unprecedented disaster for most of us that is profound in its impact on our daily lives,” says Masten. But it’s different from a hurricane or tornado where you can look outside and see the damage. The destruction is, for most people, invisible and ongoing. So many systems aren’t working as they normally do right now, which means radical shifts in work, school, and home life that almost none of us have experience with. Even those who have worked in disaster recovery or served in the military are facing a different kind of uncertainty right now. “I think we maybe underestimate how severe the adversity is and that people may be experiencing a normal reaction to a pretty severe and ongoing, unfolding, cascading disaster,” Masten says. “It’s important to recognize that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.” Research on disaster and trauma focuses primarily on what’s helpful for people during the recovery period, but we’re not close to recovery yet. People can use their surge capacity for acute periods, but when dire circumstances drag on, Masten says, “you have to adopt a different style of coping.”
Risk-tolerance: “As some parts of America gingerly begin to open up after months of near total lockdown, people have questions. Will it be safe to take a train? A plane? Visit the hair salon? An indoor restaurant? There are many knowable parameters in the equation: your health; the prevalence of cases where you live; the safety precautions being taken any place you want to visit. But the final answer may depend on your individual risk tolerance for exposure to infectious disease. Most Americans alive today have never before had to make that self-assessment. In the past, deadly outbreaks of plague, flu and polio were regular occurrences. Up until the mid to late 20th century there were mumps, measles and chickenpox to contend with. In a world of effective antibiotics and antivirals and other treatments, deaths or even serious illnesses from infectious disease seem nearly incomprehensible. So our fear is enormous, and our risk tolerance for exposure is just about zero. I hear too many people saying “I’m not going back to life until there’s a vaccine” — as if that will immediately eliminate the risk. It won’t. Even if one of the current vaccine candidates works, it could be quite a while before it’s widely distributed. And to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it has to protect only half of the people who take it from infection. For the foreseeable future we will be living in a world with some level of coronavirus out there. So if we want to get out of our bunkers, we all need to take stock of our risk tolerance.
"The covid-19 pandemic will be over by the end of 2021, says Bill Gates: "Millions more are going to die before the covid-19 pandemic is over. That is the stark message of Bill Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s largest philanthropists via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in an interview with Zanny Minton Beddoes, The Economist’s editor-in-chief, in early August. Most of these deaths, he said, would be caused not by the disease itself, but by the further strain on health-care systems and economies that were already struggling. He also lamented the politicisation of the response to the virus in America, and the spread of conspiracy theories—some implicating him—both of which have slowed efforts to contain the disease’s spread. But he offered reasons for hope in the medium term, predicting that by the end of 2021 a reasonably effective vaccine would be in mass production, and a large enough share of the world’s population would be immunised to halt the pandemic in its tracks"--
Covid-19 Poem of the Day:
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about…
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
PS - I masochistically can't wait for the RNC this week if anyone wants to text me about it or send me screenshots of good things on Twitter that I'm missing. :)