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November 29, 2020

I'd love a break about now. Now that it's close to the end of this interminable year, and now that I, personally, am just weeks away from the December 31 deadline I imposed on this project when I started it, I'm starting to have frolicsome thoughts about 2021. (Yes, really.)

But I'm not quite done yet, and neither is the virus. Neither is the political chaos in Washington, D.C., which has ended up dominating this chronicle. It wasn't supposed to. But how, in 2020, could any of us separate the encroachment of the pandemic from the political shitshow that has turned a public health misfortune into an ongoing tragedy of epic proportions? No one wants to turn on the TV every day and watch their callous and incompetent government lurch from one disastrous decision to another. Yet that's what we've been doing for months now.

If we'd had different leaders, would we have taken the threat more seriously? Would we have followed the precautions without complaint?

Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, marked the 25th consecutive day that more than 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported nationwide. The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, is warning us to expect things to get even worse soon.

By now most of America seems to be in the kind of semi-stuporous, mildly hallucinogenic state that comes with profound exhaustion. We can hardly make sense of how bad the news is — what the implications of each day's bad news might be. Yet we can't turn away. I, personally, notice that I'm unable to detach from the news for more than a few hours, because something is always happening, and as nerve-wracking as it is know about it, it feels even scarier not to know.

But we are over-saturated and it feels like we can no longer summon the right response to whatever is happening. We underreact. Sometimes we overreact. We dismiss really big news stories because we just can't absorb one more terror bulletin. We miss the forest for the trees.

In fact, I bet we're missing way more than we think we are. Since we're all caught in the very same nightmare, there's no one to give us an objective outsider's perspective. That's a big reason I wrote this, actually. The distortions and blind spots and missteps, the overwhelm and the denial and the delusion, are all part of living the year COVID came. It will take future generations to be able to see what we can't right now.

Nowadays a lot of us are going whole days without thinking about the ICU and emergency room doctors and nurses, the staffs of nursing homes and prisons, the essential workers forced to keep showing up every day, the teachers and bus drivers and grocery store employees — all the people who have kept us going all year. Maybe we just can't bear to think about them anymore.

But we should be honoring them this holiday season. They're still working hard, just as they have since the beginning, and many have paid the ultimate price for that. By some estimates, more than 3,000 health care workers have died of coronavirus already. What must those family celebrations be like this year?

It feels like a dark cloud has settled over the nation again, just like this spring. I know way too many people traveled for Thanksgiving, had big family gatherings, but I wonder if they were able to really enjoy themselves with this huge national crisis hanging over us all.

In our house, Thanksgiving dinner was scaled back to a slice of turkey and two sides. The day after, we hosted a small gathering outdoors: pie, coffee and liqueurs for a few family members and neighbors. That was it.

Likewise Christmas next month will consist of just Steph and me exchanging a gift or two, and probably not much else. It doesn't feel like a sacrifice because we'd rather donate to charity instead, not just money but food. I've inquired about cooking for churches or soup kitchens in my area, but no one is serving holiday dinners this year. We'll end up donating canned goods and groceries probably. Which doesn't feel like enough.

I did stop into a local soup kitchen not long ago and offered to volunteer but they told me the job is mostly indoors, which I think is too risky. Maybe I'll be mad at myself later for not doing it, I don't know. I feel guilty much of the time now. I used to feel like protecting myself was protecting others, and was unselfish because hospital workers were asking us not overburden them by getting sick, but sometimes now it feels like just the opposite. Like I am just selfishly worrying about my own safety and not helping anyone at a time when our nation is in such terrible shape.

But aside from financial contributions (we keep making them but our own income has been very reduced), how to help that does not end up resulting in getting sick?

I think every single person in this country, no matter their individual circumstances, is slowly being drained by the struggle of living in the midst of a pandemic that doesn't ever back off.

There are more decorated houses in our neighborhood this year than I ever remember seeing. Maybe it's just that people have the time to string the lights and and set up the sleigh and reindeer on the lawn. I don't know.

It's hard to believe there's more cheer out there this year than other years but maybe there is. Maybe somehow, in some houses, there is.

For me, in addition to how wrong it feels to celebrate in a year full of so much suffering, there's another obstacle as well: we're broke. Well, poor, anyway, than we are most years. We're still waiting for the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) aid we were told we'd be getting seven months ago. A lot of people are still waiting. I wonder if any of us will ever get it.

I find the patience of the American people amazing right now — admirable, but also disturbing. The fact that we're so quiet — are we even docile? -- unnerves me.

How are people going to get through the holidays this year? How are they making it right now, period? Are families moving in together? Are food banks managing to supply enough for everyone who has lost a job or income? What about when the people who need food have no money to buy gas to drive to the food bank? Or when the car has to be sold to pay for groceries?

It's strange that people aren't protesting abut this — not just sounding off about it on social media but literally marching in the streets. Where did all the relief aid from earlier this year go? Why has it never been accounted for?

I don't understand why, in a year that Americans have protested about social justice, and the role of government in their lives, and their "right" to risk their own health and other people's, they have NOT protested the government's refusal to help us economically.

Maybe we just ran out of energy.

If economic need hadn't forced us back to work months ago, the nation's virus numbers would surely be a fraction of what they are now. Why was that cruelty allowed to occur? Are we too exhausted to object? I don't understand. How can the right wing believe we don't deserve to access the money we ourselves put into the system?

By now it should be clear to everyone that something is horribly wrong with a system that allows everybody's fate to hang on the whim of one nasty old man, whose love of power has kept him in control of one branch of the 535-member Congress throughout this whole Presidential era, including the pandemic. And that nasty old man, Mitch McConnell, decided months ago that there had been enough "handouts" for the people. Since then we've just been trying to provide for ourselves as best we can.

It's no wonder people like me don't feel like partying this year.

I wonder how many of the people who did get relief aid — the CEOs of corporations, the celebrities, the billionaires, the rich Senators, the friends of the Trump family, and the Trumps themselves — will be celebrating their holidays. I wonder if they'll post photos of themselves on Instagram and expect us to be happy for them.

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