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Updated: Aug 19, 2020

March 28, 2020

Maybe the reason many of us are so dazed and exhausted is because now we spend part of every day in a state of horror, staring at our television screens. There’s no way around this. Most of us can’t stop thinking about the corona virus, sometimes spelled coronavirus, lately called COVID-19. The reminders are constant and unavoidable — the main one being staying at home. All day. Every day.

Most of the U.S. is now in some form of lockdown. I live about 12 miles from the U.S. epicenter, New York City.

Soon, there will be another epicenter (people say probably New Orleans) but for today it’s NYC.

Suddenly we’re all obsessed with contamination issues, swabbing our mail with Clorox wipes, scrubbing vegetables, our hands, our phones, our kids. Yesterday, a local chat group I belong to broadcast “the Ace Hardware store in Watchung Plaza just got a shipment of Lysol!” with the same urgency normally used for major storm warnings and Amber Alerts.

Adapting to the rules of this strange new lifestyle requires energy, which few of us have since we are, as mentioned, dazed, plus working from home, and likely watching children who can’t go to school anymore. I feel like we’re all pinned to walls, like people in a gravity carnival ride, by the awfulness of what we’re living through.

In America we’re used to believing we can “get on top of things,” which we often can. We’ve made this society so yes, we control it. And humans in general have long since assumed some type of management role over Mother Nature, whether by predicting earthquakes or building dams or controlling animal populations or cloning vegetables. Nowadays we don’t think of ourselves as being at the mercy of nature. We think of ourselves as being able to impose our will on nature, often with the result that we get our way.

Well, nature is winning now.

We’re getting our asses kicked to an extent none of us ever dreamed possible. None of what we know to do — vaccines, treatments, antibiotics, tests — can rescue us this time. Or anyway, not yet.

It’s been 17 days since the World Health Organization declared this a pandemic. It’s been one day since the US became the country with the most cases. Our public health experts warn we are hurtling toward a catastrophe like we’ve never seen before, a crisis so great it will actually manage to dwarf our wars, 9-11, AIDS. We don’t know what the fuck to do. We’re told to stay home so we huddle in our houses and wait for the sky to fall. 

All of us hope we will be spared and everyone we love will be spared, too. The alternative is so awful that we can’t contemplate it. Disbelief comes easier. We crave the safety of not knowing and many turn on the TV not to learn more about what’s happening but to hear it really isn’t that bad, or may not last that long. There are networks and news outlets that are happy to do this, though at the expense of the truth.

The now-daily press conferences featuring President Trump and his Corona Virus Task Force are filled with conflicting information, some outright lies, a lot of bombast and self-congratulation, and some real attempts at reassurance and comfort. Basically right now, if you want to believe this is being blown out of proportion by the media, by health experts, by politicians, you can still find people who will help you believe it.

But it does feel like the scoffing and the soothing are both growing fainter. The numbers of cases just rise and rise, the death toll rises, there is no downward trend. The TV shows us a long white refrigerated truck backed up to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, ready to receive the bodies of the dead. It’s hard to unsee that. Hard to square it with the reassurances. We are losing the luxury of disbelief.

But then again how, exactly, are we supposed to believe this? Really believe it? So far most Americans have been unexpectedly acquiescent to even the strictest lockdown policies. But are we absorbing this, like, for real?

It's too much to comprehend. And too far away and sad. We stay at home and wash our hands, and watch the news, and turn off the news when it gets to be too much. We wrestle with our disbelief, and hope our leaders will help us, and forget sometimes and then are shocked we forgot, and mostly just wish it would be over so we could get back to regular life.

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