COVID-19, part 62

Headed into the end of May and the beginning of a new month now, I’ve been thinking a lot about the marquee on the Nighthawk Theater over on the other side of the park. It reads, in not very large letters by marquis standards, SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE. It was probably not intentional but the small words on the wide, white field express a sort of quiet doubt. They could have just as easily added a question mark at the end and said the same thing. That’s not projection on my part (no movie theater pun here). It’s the truth of the matter. The country will soon top 100,000 deaths. There will be no other side for those people, at least not on this side of the earthly membrane. They’re gone, and an inordinate number of them are New Yorkers. They were neighbors and family.

It’s jarring to walk around the neighborhoods and see all the shuttered shops. Some restaurants are hanging on with takeout and pickup business but many are just closed. It’s hard to say which will open up again on this other side people speak of. That is, as I mentioned, a lot of dreams caged up and wasting away behind those gated shopfronts. The human toll here is very real.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about this phrase, the new normal (which as I’ve said I’d be happy to see retired already). This is decidedly not normal. Simply using new normal speaks of as much doubt and uncertainty as The Nighthawk’s marquee. It’s also not balanced by the number of people talking about things ‘getting back to normal.’ That’s almost equally unsettling. Normal implies of a norm and just because things are of a norm that we have resigned ourselves to, that in no way means that they old normal was what is desirable. There are hundreds of reasons things should not to back to what was considered normal.

Firstly, that old normal included a broad ignorance of the possibility that something like COVID-19 could ever happen here. Surprise, motherfuckers! We were warned. We watched epidemics beat the hell out of other countries (usually non-white countries) with either actionless liberal handwringing or complete racist disregard. There has always been an attitude of IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE. Well, why not? We still haven’t done anything about Flint, Michigan. We’ve sat on our thumbs with that situation for years now. Plenty of really horrible things happen here. We just choose to mostly disregard them while we choose a brunch spot and wait for Amazon to drone-drop our latest purchases. That’s part of the normal people are talking about getting back to.

Back to normal means same old same old with disparities in wealth and education and nutrition and healthcare access. That’s the normal that allowed COVID-19 to ravage some demographics so much worse than others. Oh hell yes, let’s just race to get back to that normal. Oh, one way this ‘new normal’ resembles the old normal? Gun crime and racism and police brutality. And consider the only reason there has been a drop in school shootings this year is that the virus closed the schools. I’m not being funny. It’s true.

I could go on.

I guess my point is, this could be an opportunity to create a new normal that works better than how things went prior to the corona virus. We should not have had so many people so vulnerable to the impact of this, either for health and healthcare reasons or economic reasons. This has all exposed how broken our infrastructure is. Is that how we want to be? There is no other side if that’s how it’s going to be. We will always be stuck in the middle of the next impending disaster, and there will be next.

These are still rough notes. I will at some point pick out individual parts of this screed for more focused attention. This was really about thinking about our frames of thought through this. Viewing it all through the old lenses will mean this has all been for nothing. Shit wasn’t working. Let’s not pretend it was.

That applies also to each of us as individuals who’ve muddled through and mucked about the lockdown. There’s been an awful lot of time to sit with our thoughts. What will that mean? I’ve had to ask myself if my own normal was working. I knew the answer before this shelter in place business began but it’s been impossible to ignore now. It’s not about stressing it. It’s about seeing it. It’s about looking hard at it. It’s about making decisions. What will my new normal be moving forward? That remains to be seen prior to action, no?

All these words seem somehow insufficient. There can be more. I’m still thinking also about that New York Times front page from a few days ago with the names of all the victims. It was frightening and moving. We owe them more than leaning out the window every night and clapping for healthcare workers. That shit is easy. We owe all of them a better normal than the old normal. At least as individuals, we need to show them we learned something, ya know?

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