Scare City, and The Maverick called Time
It’s time for True Confessions. I wrote recently that a friend had sent my husband and me two masks as we couldn’t get any here in the Hudson River Valley. When the envelope arrived, it looked a little the worse for wear. Despite the best efforts of the USPS, that happens sometimes.
We opened it to eight blue latex gloves, and a number ten envelope that had one mask.
Without so much as a breath, a thought, a reservation, I said, “Someone’s stolen one.”
Well, various telephone calls and text messages later we were all laughing at my distinctly suspicious response. It turned out to have been operator error. My friend sent our two masks to his friend who needed one. Later that day the friend sent a gorgeous, shirtless selfie via text message claiming to model “my mask.”
I’m principally staying home because I have two of the vulnerabilities to this virus. My husband is using the mask if he goes out. To borrow a well-worn phrase, all’s well that ends well, right?
The instant nature of my suspicion has stayed with me. I don’t like that I had that as a first reaction. I’m supposed to be wiser than that, kinder than that, more evolved than that. Most of the time, I embody those generous qualities, but when it came to my life, or death, and that of my family, I didn’t. It’s not surprising, but it is dismaying.
Shall I confess what the deeper meaning of my reaction is? I think so.
In one thought — one, mind you — I shifted from living as a person who believes that I will be taken care of to living as a person who believes that I won’t. Another way to say this is:
I shifted from abundance to scarcity.
Ouch. Oh hell, total ouch. This is why I have maintained for many years that scarcity actually asks for a different spelling. Scare City. It’s a place, an interior place, where we fear that we will have no choice but to live in unfulfilled need, and that that very fact will be the end of us.
No wonder it’s a scary place.
Which is why when I read this article in The New York Times this morning, “Trump Considers Reopening Economy, Over Health Experts’ Objections,” I almost lost my breakfast.
Then I read the weekly conversation between Gail Collins and Bret Stephens, two Opinion Columnists. Mr. Stephens says, “As for deep thoughts, Gail, I can’t decide what should worry us more: another 1918 or another 1929? Pandemic, Great Depression — or possibly both.”
Wait! What?! WHAT?!?!?!
Is he really pitting the Public Health against the Economy as though the two are at the opposite ends of a spectrum? I think he is.
Here’s the Cheeto-in-Chief again, “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. America will, again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. Lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
An equalizing shift in the economy is not the opposite of the health of the persons who make up the economy.
Here’s a sane voice amidst the cries of woe-is-I over the economy. “You can’t call off the best weapon we have, which is social isolation, even out of economic desperation, unless you’re willing to be responsible for a mountain of deaths,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Thirty days makes more sense than 15 days. Can’t we try to put people’s lives first for at least a month?”
We can’t if a major portion of us move to Scare City.
And whom do you surmise is the mayor there? How about this guy? “Mr. Trump has watched as a record economic expansion and booming stock market that served as the basis of his re-election campaign evaporated in a matter of weeks.” I’d never heard of an elected official taking the status of the stock market as a barometer of his personal well-being. Imagine Elizabeth Warren doing that.
The stock markets are falling.
Of course they are.
They’re reflections. OF THE PUBLIC. Not of the president.
For as long as we waiver on whether to put all lives first, the market will waiver. What it needs to stabilize is a clearly articulated policy based on values a majority consider dear.
Here’s another voice of reason: “The idea that there’s a trade-off between health and economics right now is likely badly mistaken,” said Jason Furman of Harvard University, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama. “The thing damaging our economy is a virus. Everyone who is trying to stop that virus is working to limit the damage it does to our economy and help our eventual rebound. The choice may well be taking pretty extreme steps now or taking very extreme steps later.”
And here is where Scare City becomes a tangled morass of streets like a maze with no egress. Professor Furman says, “our eventual rebound.” Key word: eventual.
But, and it’s a big one, the human brain is nothing if not an extrapolater extraordinaire. It works like this:
I put one toe into Scare City, and unless I am adept at managing my own conscious mind, my brain takes me squarely to the terror that I will remain in Scare City forever.
Haven’t you caught yourself doing that? Having a bad day, and suddenly you’re thinking that every day is a bad day? Having a disagreement with someone, and suddenly that’s all you ever have with that someone? Having a sniffley nose, and suddenly you’re always sick? Of course you have. That’s how our brains have been taught to work.
The entire science of algorithm is based on just this premise. Those creepy, online marketing ads that are allegedly tailored to your taste don’t reflect where you’re going, or what you will do. They reflect where you’ve been. More like a rearview mirror than the windshield they’re made out to be.
Time is a maverick, Beloved. It expands and contracts based on our experience of how we use it. But chronological time is not a forever thing. No, unlike kairos, or eternal time, chronos is a mere convenience for scheduling purposes.
It’s when we extrapolate, often ridiculously, that time becomes our enemy. Remember the key word? Eventual. The quote was “eventual rebound.” I might modify eventual with inevitable.
Our inevitable, eventual rebound.
Michelle Goldberg quoted Margaret Thatcher in “Here Come the Death Panels,” this morning, “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”
No one is exempt from the coronavirus. No one is exempt from the economy.
We are all part of the public health.
We are all part of the economy.
We do, however, have a vital choice to make here.
We can live in direct violation of the recommendations made by those who know how to tame the coronavirus, or, for the sake of the health of all the public, we can be compliant.
We can also live in dire terror of the collapse of our economy, move in to Scare City, buy a house, and hunker down, or, for the sake of the economic well-being of all the public, we can learn to share.
Scare and share are only one letter apart. Start now, won’t you?
P.S. Mary Engelbreit, that Magical Theologian of Whimsy, never lets me down. Her quote today? Only connect.