“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly,” wrote novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald in his seminal work, “The Great Gatsby,” a book about the slow decay of the American Dream and the shallowness inherent in capital-based economy.
This sadly rings true as we gaze out into the open, vacant streets filled to the brim with emptiness; barren wastelands of shuttered restaurants and bars shelving the barren concrete painted for traffic but bare and unused.
Millions are signing up for unemployment as workers are laid-off, furloughed or prohibited from working because their jobs have been shuttered, being deemed as unessential. The stock market continues in a seemingly horrific freefall. Many have been warned in precautions laid out by local, state and federal governments. And yet, in a grocery store on any given day, despite the plastic gloves, the facemasks, and store shelves, some of which empty, life continues with some sort of frightening mundanity.
The world looks, almost, like the opening of some post-apocalyptic film, as if some Marvel villain had snapped the vast majority of the human population away somewhere else. In Venice, since the lockdown, dolphins and other wildlife seemed to reappear in the canals due to the lack of human traffic, albeit those reports were somewhat misleading. In India, the Himalayas, once a crooked phantom line on the far-off horizon, are now visible. It seems, without humanity’s day-in-day-out, consistent movement, a long-forgotten pre-industrialized world is replacing the overwhelming transitory nature of modernity.
All has gone quiet, humanity has disappeared, in an attempt to, ironically enough, save itself.
Though, some fearing financial disaster have suggested arguably grim and frightening suggestions to stem the tide of a possible recession or worse, depression.
“Those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News.
Patrick would go on to suggest that the market was much more important than people’s lives, saying, “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?’ And if that is the exchange, I’m all in,”
Though Patrick’s Fox News tirade may be one of the worst cases in which politicians prioritize the economy over lives, it’s far from the most dangerous. The president, the man most in charge of this, urged an early open date for similar reasons.
He would later go back on it, but President Trump originally suggested an open date of Easter, which landed on April 12. He suggested it was a “special day” and that he’d like to see pews filled with people, an image that seems horrifying in the wake of everything that came before this proclamation.
That being said, there are still several states that have made churches exempt from social distancing guidelines, including Ohio, who has seen churches like Solid Rock in Lebanon, Ohio continue to congregate the masses, virus or not.
More than 30,000 have thus far died from the coronavirus in the U.S., a number that grows exponentially by the day. And the U.S. alone has more cases than the next four countries combined, at nearly 700,000.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus coordinator for the White House, suggested that the number of fatalities could reach 100-200,000 before all is said and done, even if we continued strict social distancing.
“Is it going to be that much? I hope not. But being realistic, we need to prepare ourselves, that is a possibility,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“When you looked at the China data originally,” said Birx, wherein 50,000 were infected in an area of China with a population of 80 million, “you start thinking of this more like SARS than you do a global pandemic.”
She went on to add:
“The medical community interpreted the Chinese data as, this was serious, but smaller than anyone expected, because, probably…we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that we see what happened to Italy and we see what happened to Spain.”
Trump has recently laid out plans to reopen the country, leaving it up to governors to decide in an event that could prove catastrophic, as no vaccine currently exists and deaths are climbing by leaps and bounds with each passing day.
To further exacerbate the heartache of all of this, while some politicians clamor for fear of an economic collapse, it seems that there is an inherent disparity in how this pandemic is affecting working-class people and African Americans. Likewise, prisons throughout the country are experiencing outbreaks, with prisoners and staff all feeling the brunt of the virus.
According to an NPR article, dated April 16, more than 100 residents in a nursing home in New Jersey were infected and 17 dead bodies were discovered after an anonymous tip. The event serves as a microcosm for what the virus is doing on a large scale to the weak, the sick, the disadvantaged throughout the country and the world.
On top of that, according to a New York Times article written April 11, “Wisconsin and Ohio, farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of fresh milk into lagoons and manure pits. An Idaho farmer has dug huge ditches to bury 1 million pounds of onions. And in South Florida, a region that supplies much of the Eastern half of the United States with produce, tractors are crisscrossing bean and cabbage fields, plowing perfectly ripe vegetables back into the soil.”
While at the same time, millions of Americans are out of work and food banks are in need of help, with volunteer numbers down, according to that same article.
It’s hard to say what will happen in the upcoming days, weeks and months, but with pundits and politicians pushing for a re-opening of the country, despite no vaccine in sight, and the death toll in the U.S. passing that of Italy to rank number one in total deaths, things look particularly grim.
In all of this, I can offer only one small grain of hope in a story about the Black Death.
In the 14th Century, Feudalism, a form of society that barely exists in our modern age, reigned across most of Europe. As the plague ravaged the continent, claiming a third of Europe’s population, society moved away from its former practices. Labor and laborers became a commodity, rather than an abundance.
Who knows if COVID-19 can change anything about the way in which we as a modern society conduct ourselves. Perhaps it could. Perhaps we could find a way to protect the at-risk and disadvantaged; perhaps there is a way to send the workforce home and keep the economy thriving; perhaps there is a way to get resources to the people who need them when they need them, and for us to not be as wasteful and kinder to our world, as we make up only a small part of it.
Perhaps we can do these things. Only time will tell.
For now, we sit alone, most of us in our homes and rooms, occasionally venturing out like survivors in a Cormac McCarthy book. Some staying up later than we should, some waking up earlier than we ever would because it seems without a world beckoning us on to the next task, time has very little meaning.
There’s a photographer, Aristotle Roufanis, who took photographs of various cityscapes, each large and grand, some displayed in huge galleries that stretch on and on. And in them, we can see various cities, much like the stars, a few specks of light in a vast blackness. To understand what I’m saying you just need to go look at them.
D’you see what I mean? Big, gigantic cities…empty at night, with only a few lights on. At first, it seems amazing that we’ve never noticed how quiet our cities can be, right? How have we never noticed how, in such a vast expanse, a few lights shine like tiny little specks in a blackened sea of darkness?
Except, it’s important to note that those are not real photos. I mean, they are. They’re absolutely real but the entire image is a digitalized creation of thousands and thousands of photos stitched together. In reality, our cities are bustling with lights and people and overwhelming activity and each of those people aren’t alone.
Each lighted window is a tiny lamp in the middle of the night–a tiny speck in a sea of lights, just out of view, but not alone.