Reflections, with the help of Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield
By Susan Megna
There’s something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
After the first U.S. case of COVID four months ago, it moved on to malform 328 million American lives, and end almost 100,000. It’s not over.
COVID has moved on to stir fear, chaos, rage, even as governments struggle to limit the health threat and the destruction of economies. The virus is a worm, infecting how we relate to one another, individually and as a nation. We’ve seen it in the rebellious demonstrations on the steps of state capitols, on overrun beaches, in ugly social media comments. Uncomfortable differences are bubbling up in how we personally manage COVID risk. I see it in myself, as I pass judgment on people in close groups, spewing possible droplets into my air. Or on people being pugnaciously compliant in stores, masks pulled down to cover only their chins.
The lock-down was harsh, but it was a communal experience. Together, we watched the reports of rising death tolls and wailing ambulances. We felt isolated (together), we felt afraid (together), we felt lonely (together), we felt bored (together). We sang from balconies and banged pots to applaud our essential warriors. We stood in doorways and howled our rage and defiance at the sky. Through the media, we shared humor, beauty, resilience, love.
While COVID was busy sickening 1.5 million American people, we were physically apart but truly together. And we prevailed. We beat it back, we limited the spread.
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
Now we are coming physically closer – on sidewalks, in parks, in friends’ back yards, in hair salons, workplaces, shops, restaurants – but we are growing more divided. There still could be outbreaks. Any one still could sicken and die. So we appraise whether our friends and neighbors and coworkers are “careful enough.” We are dependent on others being responsible, but we see them bending the guidelines. Yet government tells us that fear of COVID is not a valid reason not to board a bus and get back to work.
Politicians and pundits are firing up the blame game: blame China, blame the Democrats, blame Trump, blame the people in your building that don’t properly practice social distancing. COVID fuels the worst in us, driving us apart.
I watched a Zoom U.S. History class in a Brooklyn high school for dropouts. The kids are poor, brown or black; many have learning issues. The lesson was about the Great Depression and the teachers tried to make the lesson relevant by having the kids draw a parallel to today. The normally slouchy students came alive. They posted in the Zoom chat box:
“It changes the way we view people, and how safe we really are.”
“It took a big toll on me. My neighbor died of COVID, very fast. She was kind and sweet. I don’t understand how this happened.”
“What did we do wrong that they didn’t protect us? Why did they let this happen to us?”
These kids want – no, need – to talk about COVID. I heard the anger sparking under their words.
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
As we “open back up,” we say we want to get back to normal. But do we really? COVID exposed inequities in our health care and economic systems, no surprise there. People on the low end of the equity scale ended up being the very folks who allowed the rest of us to stay safe. And they paid for it. Pre-COVID, lives (and deaths) were influenced by race, neighborhood, money. We are learning that this was also true during the COVID crisis. How do we change that? Not an easy question.
The looming election is indeed a momentous power struggle for the direction of this country. Our nation was sick before the pandemic, as seen in our extreme rigid polarization, intolerance, loss of civility. We already had plenty of socio-economic “underlying conditions.” Now we have some new ones, like the stigmatization of Asians, exposed vulnerability of the elderly, homeless, or those with addiction illnesses. Will we carry signs of protest about the disproportionate rates of COVID in poor and working groups, usually people of color, usually in crowded urban areas, but also immigrants, farm and factory workers, and Native American groups? Or will we vote in another government that considers these people expendable, beyond their value to the economy?
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
Today, nearly 40 million people are COVID-unemployed in this country. A recent study estimates that over 40% of these will have permanent job loss. My daughter is one. She abandoned her law career for a less lucrative but more enjoyable one as a server and event planner. It is just hitting home that she will need to rise to the top of a sea of unemployed Americans to figure out a new way to keep herself safe and the rent paid. She is worried and angry, like millions more.
It's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
What sounds are we hearing? The sound of fear? anger? distrust? The sound of indifference? Can we listen to these sounds, really hear them? I know things may get worse before they get better. Our world is rocked now, will never be the same. But we did it in our two months of lock-down, brought people together. Maybe we can do it again.
My hobbies include writing nonfiction and memoir, and, lately, worrying about COVID. I worry about the people I love, the country I love, and the world I love. But as a practiced optimist, I know that we will come out of this better and stronger.