Things As They Were

“Hope offers us clarity that, amid the uncertainty ahead, there will be conflicts worth joining and the possibility of winning some of them. And one of the things most dangerous to this hope is the lapse into believing that everything was fine before disaster struck, and that all we need to do is return to things as they were. Ordinary life before the pandemic was already a catastrophe of desperation and exclusion for too many human beings, an environmental and climate catastrophe, an obscenity of inequality. It is too soon to know what will emerge from this emergency, but not too soon to start looking for chances to help decide it. It is, I believe, what many of us are preparing to do.”

This quotation is taken from Rebecca Solnit’s essay titled, “‘The impossible has already happened’: what coronavirus can teach us about hope,” published earlier this week by The Guardian. By the following day America’s last voice for genuine change this fall, Bernie Sanders, had ended his bid for the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, ceding to Joe Biden, who makes for a fine example of “things as they were.”

This has been a challenging week. Tuesday my throat began hurting, and by the middle of the night I was sleepless due to hot/cold flashes, severe pain when I was swallowing, and aching throughout my body. By mid-morning most of those symptoms besides the throat pain had eased, but again last night, I awoke around 1:30am and was up for several hours with cold sweats and sharp pains in my throat every time I swallowed. This morning I went to see my primary care physician, and was stopped in the foyer, questioned by a staff member sitting at a small desk about whether I had an appointment. I didn’t, and was told I had to call the COVID-19 response line so I could be assessed and referred to another facility. Within the hour I’d had blood taken, in addition to swabs up my nose and down my throat, but no confirmation of strep despite visible infectious areas at the back of my throat. The cultures that were taken will reveal whether I have strep, mono, tonsillitis, or potentially just a bad sore throat.

My phone died while I was in the doctor’s office, and following the tests I drove home in silence. I thought about how tired I was before my mind made a hard left. Despite the pain, I wasn’t sick like many are right now. I don’t have a respiratory infection and have a job I have the opportunity to perform from the privacy of my home. Another swallow, another grimace, but also: gratitude. 

When the stay at home ordinances were first imposed, I recall talking with a friend who mentioned how this could all lead to long-term societal changes; maybe people will start being nicer to each other, or care for one another better moving forward. That’s the hope, though I recall shooting back something about how, as humans, we tend to revert back to our standard operating levels pretty quickly. Where my dad lives, in Texas, there have been reports of armed robberies in Walmart parking lots—people stealing groceries. Standard operating levels clashing with modern catastrophes of desperation.

I don’t want things to be what they were a month ago, a year ago, or a decade ago. There is much I hope to carry forward with me, but with every new day I’m learning more about what it is I’m now moving toward. As Solnit wrote, “It is too soon to know what will emerge from this emergency, but not too soon to start looking for chances to help decide it.” 

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