They say that God laughs while you’re making plans.
What has been particularly frustrating to me in the United States over the past few months has been watching other nations not only not be affected as gravely as we have been by the pandemic, but watching them get the outbreak under control in relatively short order. This is actually painful to me. It paints the stark picture that things did not have to be the way they are… a thing that’s always true but which is thrown into particularly sharp relief when things in your neighborhood are, to put it bluntly, crap.
And let there be no mistake; things are crap, here. Cases and deaths are at their highest levels and show no signs of slowing. You can’t even say we’re in a second wave; the first wave never stopped, it only slowed down a little bit.
But worse than the way things are is the way people are acting.
I don’t know how it is in other countries, and I am well aware that jerks are in short supply exactly nowhere when humans are involved, and entitlement is by no stretch an American disease. But here in the States — and, I would argue, especially in the South — we have a lot of entitled jerks that are making things very hard for the rest of us, and making it impossible for us to get a handle on the disease, much less get the stranglehold on it that we need for life to go back to normal.
And that’s been the thing. We hear so much and talk so much about things going back to normal, but there are so many problems with that. Two major ones, as I see it.
One is, “normal” is subjective, and whatever “normal” we get back to is not going to be the same “normal” that we left. Yet so many people seem to think that we’re just going to go back to living our lives exactly the same way we were doing in 2019. But we can’t. Even when we get this disease under control (and I’m now convinced that, in America at least, “under control” means we have a reliable vaccine, but we’ll come to that), nobody’s going to forget how quickly and catastrophically things spiraled out of control. Even if you take the factor of the disease out of it, we now have a really good look at how fragile the economy is, how unstable several job classes are (look at all the restaurants closing their doors), and what a rift this has opened up between people socially. “Normal” post-COVID will not look like “Normal” pre-COVID. It just won’t.
Two is, we want to get back to normal, but apparently we’re not willing to work to get back to normal. This may be kind of obvious, but it’s the sort of thing I key in on as a self-proclaimed storyteller and student of character. Look at any story. The hero wants a thing, and that want causes them to do things. Luke wants off his backwater planet, so he leaps at the chance to leave it. The Dude wants a new rug, so he seeks out the other Jeffrey Lebowski for compensation. The progression is usually pretty straightforward, and it usually makes sense.
Here in America, and especially in the South, we want to get back to normal, but so many of us — too many of us — don’t actually want to do anything to make it happen. Again, this is perhaps more of an American problem than it is for many other places in the world, but we are especially concerned with “freedom”, and there is a subset of our population which is not only concerned, but obsessed with freedoms at the expense of anything else. So even though science shows pretty definitively that some measures can be pretty effective in halting the spread (wearing masks, staying home, etc), there are a lot of people (more than I would have guessed) who simply won’t be told what to do. And because these people vote, and mobilize others to vote, very aggressively, we have leaders who think the same way, or who at least perform as if they think the same way (which might as well be the same thing).
Which leaves us with a string of pathetic half-measures against this disease as opposed to forceful, definitive action. Here in Georgia, we don’t require masks to be worn out in public; we only “strongly encourage” their use. But you don’t have to be a genius to know that if it’s not required, lots and lots of people aren’t going to do it. (Consider what the roadways would look like if the speed limit were not a legal requirement, but was only “strongly encouraged”. Or if stop signs were only a suggestion.)
And now we are on the precipice of opening schools up again (even though figures in virtually every state are worse than they were when we closed them down back in march). And we get more half-measures. I can only speak for my own area, where we are opening on-schedule, with virtual learning an “option” but not a requirement (most students will be in class a week from today). Masks are “recommended”, but not required. Social distancing will take place where it is “practical”. Fine Arts programs are essentially shut down — chorus classes are not allowed to sing, band classes not allowed to play instruments — but sports are going full-speed ahead. Contact tracing is limited and on the honor system (the county is not doing any testing; if a student feels ill, it’s up to them and their family to get tested — or not, if they don’t feel like it!)
But we are opening up regardless — because we are determined to get back to “normal.”
Problem is, this isn’t normal. School with all these caveats and hedges and limitations isn’t “normal”. This is a patchwork of half-measures, a cavalcade of procedures and guidelines which might sound good on paper or in a sound bite but which begin to fall apart under the slightest bit of scrutiny. Any teacher or parent knows that even under the best of circumstances, a school is a petri dish and students are walking bacteria.
We’re not doing the things that would help us to get what we actually want.
What we are doing is waiting for a miracle.
But I, as a teacher of drama, can assure you: waiting is not action.
Hoping and praying is not action.
Newton’s laws are definitive for describing motion in the universe, but they tend to be true for people too: an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion, until acted on by an outside force.
Waiting, and taking half-measures, is simply wasting time until something bigger and stronger takes action instead of you.
They say that God laughs while you’re making plans.
But while we’re waiting for a miracle, this disease is cackling its head off.