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Updated: Aug 21, 2020

May 27, 2020

At this point we have no idea what to expect, and that’s making me — and most of our whole nation, I think — anxious as hell.

And it’s weird to still feel so uncertain when we’ve already spent months getting to know this virus and, not incidentally, ourselves — what we will and won’t to do to stay safe, and even deeper, who we are now as a result of this. How are we reacting to the unthinkable, and what’s become more important, or less so, now that everything is being shaken like dice in a cup?

It’s the uncertainty most of us hate so much. We want to feel sure again. In command, even. Most of us prefer grappling with our known routines and problems to grappling with questions. We’re fighting that part of it. We never asked for this crisis, and it isn’t our fault it’s here … is it?

We don’t know that, either.

COVID-19 has demanded that we look those we love — who we quarantine with is likely whoever we’re closest to, and we’ve never been closer than now — and at our lives, meaning our jobs, how we spend our time, where our journey has taken us taken us so far.

Then it asks us to look at how we function as a nation, who our leaders are, what kind of world we’ve made, and what we can still do to save ourselves — as a population and yes, even as a species.

It really is that intense. Plenty of people still don’t want to look at all that, and aren’t looking, and maybe will never look. But the questions keep hanging in the air, like the virus itself.

So while transmission details keep surfacing — you can get it through your eyes, did you know? Did you know the virus lives longer on stainless steel than paper? — and new data keeps upending what doctors and researchers thought they knew even two weeks ago, or four or twelve, we keep having to get it that this isn’t purely a medical phenomenon. Or an economic one, either. It’s pretty clear by now that this is a spiritual struggle, maybe above all. And it appears we have to start finding some humility to bring to it because trying to “master” this is getting us nowhere.

This seems really clear to me, so it bugs me that so many people keep getting so caught on thorny branches with names like “Should We Re-Open Bars?” And “Are the Democrats Doing This to Trump Somehow (or Enjoying it?)”

Aren’t there much better questions we could be asking?

Let’s start with this. What we do know about coronavirus is disturbing, and also confusing for a lot of people. So where does that take us?

Yes, we understand by now that it can be transmitted by people who don’t look sick, and who maybe never experience sickness. It manifests as respiratory disease in most cases but it’s starting to look like it may actually be a vascular disease. It was killing people before we started naming it, and has surely infected or killed people we will never be able to count, because of our testing response and because of paperwork that has given, is surely still giving, other names to those deaths and diagnoses — pneumonia, heart attack, joint disease — that in fact should be attributed to coronavirus.

Every day we learn more about the vicious forms the virus can take: people who suffer for months without respite; people who have had to endure amputations, or whose immune systems revolted, or whose prolonged experience on ventilators has left them profoundly altered in both physical and emotional ways.

Yet still I feel like whatever we know about the crisis isn’t as bad as what we don’t know — or maybe more accurately, what we don’t know that we don’t know. What we still can’t figure out, or face.

Because what is known can be coped with, somehow. We can find a treatment, a cure. We can direct resources to a known problem; we can measure and analyze it. We can turn to our social customs for direction: send flowers, offer to assist.

But what isn’t known … isn’t known. So maybe we entertain thoughts we don’t want to have, don’t want to share, but wonder if other people have sometimes, too — like:

What if the scope of this crisis is bigger than we can see right now? What if we’re not “a few months from a vaccine” but “at the beginning of a new era”? Maybe even a forever era?

What if it can’t be brought under control, like SARS? Or what if we find effective measures to combat it and then it mutates? What if it changes our DNA? What if it can be passed through generations?

What are its long-term effects and how will it change us over time?

There’s no possible way to address these questions, either because they’re not scientifically sound or because we’re not far enough into this journey to even know which questions we need to be asking.

But one thing is certain: whatever questions we were asking in March are not the same as the ones we should be asking now. If they’ve been answered but not satisfied, then the new question might be “why not?” (Testing: if we know that’s step one in the most effective mitigation efforts on earth, why are we still testing too few people or even drawing back from testing?)

But an even better question might be the one I used to ask myself as a reporter, when I was going in the middle of an interview about a story I had been sent to get, except another, deeper story kept popping up behind it:

How can I know what I don’t know?

Performed by The Fray

Uncertainty is killing me

And I'm certainly, not asleep

Maybe I've gone far too deep

Maybe I'm just far too weak

And that's the last place

I want to be

The last place

And there is so much we don't know

So we love and we hope that it holds

Thousands are lost, maybe more

The question remains, what is this for?

Maybe it came unexpected

Maybe I'm left unprotected

And that's the last place

I want to be

The last place

And there is so much we don't know

So we love and we hope that it holds

And either we say or we show

So I'm going to fight for my own

I'm holding on until the last

I'm holding on until there's nothing left

I'm holding on until the last

I'm holding on 'til there's nothing left

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: King Joseph A / Slade Isaac Edward

Uncertainty lyrics © Emi April Music Inc., Aaron Edwards Publishing, Emi April Music Inc

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