Some day we will again go out to eat, attend sporting events, the theatre and concerts, have drinks with friends and actually work in an office. But not now. Not as long as we must take precautions we never thought a modern society would need, with a president leading from behind, our savings dwindling by the minute and a host of unanswerable questions.
We have all lived through precarious times. Most of us have endured the Great Recession, the AIDs crisis, 9/11, political upheaval and seemingly endless wars with no clearly defined purpose. In the old days, such occurrences would have been explained as religious retribution. In 1348, the Great Plague was undoubtedly viewed as the manifestation of God’s wrath. Today, only a few Millennialists believe the coming of the Great Rapture is behind these events. Most of us just see them as life as we now know it.
Our parents and grandparents survived arguably much worse: the Great Depression and the battle against Fascism, otherwise known as World War II. Surely, in those dark days, many questioned whether the economic, political and societal structures we took for granted would survive. Is Capitalism dead? Do we face a future in a totalitarian world? Spoiler alert: we conquered Hitler and Fascism and set off an era of well being the likes of which the world had never seen. Life was good, at least if you were white, male and straight. Women stayed at home, gays in the closet, people of color out of the voting booth and most people regularly went to church secure in their belief that a (for most) Christian God smiled upon their good fortune. We eventually won the Cold War and liberal democracy was the hands-down victor.
Now, things aren’t so clear. Man-made institutions (even if of supposedly divine origins) let us down. The banks built a financial system on a house of cards, preying upon the basic desire of most to own a home, the Catholic Church protected “men of God” who abused their most innocent believers, political parties forgot that the purpose of government is to unite, not divide, its citizens, and businesses functioned primarily to enrich their owners (the shareholders) and aggrandize their executives, without the slightest inclination to serve the public at large (mostly known as consumers or, nowadays, users).
Of course, all of this is merely my way to rage against inequality in its various forms. Maybe man (and woman) is destined to live in an unfair world, and the best we can do is to imitate Sisyphus by pushing the rock up the hill only to have it squash us on its way down again and again. But the ultimate irony is that our current crisis is not about the haves and have nots. In fact, the coronavirus is as democratic as it gets. It doesn’t seem to care whether its victims are rich or poor, white or black or yellow, men or women, Democrats or Republicans, or live in a Western democracy or under an authoritarian regime.
Lest you think that my rantings are nothing but gloom and doom, I actually intend them as a message of hope. Hope that as we try to figure out how to conquer this deadly invader (and, no, it doesn’t help to label it a “Chinese virus”), maybe it will force us to recognize that we all are part of a single humanity that has far more in common, both physiologically and spiritually, than it has differences. Even though common sense tells us to maintain “social distance,” avoid any remaining social gatherings or public events, and “self-quarantine,” it is, now more than ever, a time where we must put away our differences to face a mysterious enemy as one and not use it as yet another excuse to blame the Other. And maybe learn our lesson so we can be prepared for the next crisis. Do we have a choice?