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The Way We* Live Now

By: Mary Rohrer-Dann

*We, who are still fortunate in all the many privileges of privilege.

                        (with respect to Susan Sontag)

            Good Morning America and the too-aptly named Eleventh Hour bookend our days. We watch the stock market plummet further with our morning coffee, drag ourselves to bed after the nightly round-up of deaths, infection rates, lockdowns. We gulp down an Ambien or two. We chew Tums after our daily lunchtime streaming of Fearless Leader’s latest public masturbation stunts. Everyone trades bingeable apocalyptic TV recommends: grisly True Crime, dark British police procedurals, dystopian alternative universe sci-fi, plague movies.  All hail, Netflix!

            We gorge on crime series bonbons while awaiting Mantel’s farewell to Thomas Cromwell. Reread Bradbury’s oddly comforting “The Last Night of the World.” Trade lists of favorite books, favorite poems. Joy abounds in Mary Oliver and Liesel Mueller, in Levine and Gluck, Neruda and Langston Hughes. In Psalms. We turn again to Morrison, Erdrich, Urrea, Kalman, Hegi, Coates, and so many more for sustenance, strength, perspective. All hail, too, E-readers!

            Martin Niemoller’s words ghost the air. We remember when it was only the Chinese. Then, all Asians and cruise-line passengers. Italians. Then, all Europeans–but not the Brits. Three days later, the Brits.

            The news never even mentions the nations of Africa. 

            When it finally came here, only people over 73 had to worry. Then it was folks 65 and over, then 55. Now young adults and children are hospitalized. Social Distancing makes everyone a foreigner.

            Front-line health care workers can’t get protective gear. Neither can the janitors who clean critical spaces. They are urged to reuse masks (if they have them) or fashion them out of scarves or bandanas. (Invest in bandanas while you can!) And unless they have side-jobs as movie stars or NBA players, they can’t get tested until they spike a fever or can’t breathe.  Sometimes, not even then.  Some have given their lives.

            Medical and dental appointments and procedures are postponed unless essential. Most churches have locked their doors; some hold services and evening prayers online.

            Grocery store cashiers join the frontline of risk.

            Fearless Leader tells governors of the hardest-hit states that they are on their own. He repeats ad infinitum how his foresight and preparedness and mastery of science are, and always have been, perfect. He’s got this, he tells us, his face a sphincter of fury. He considers announcing martial law, his absolute wet-dream-come-true. Orange is the new color of fear.

            We stock up on Clorox wipes, Clorox spray, antibacterial soap, bottled water, meds, baby wipes, toilet paper (try Staples!) paper towels, frozen foods, canned goods, bags of beans, Ambien. Rubbing alcohol to concoct home-made hand sanitizers. Fabric and sports goggles for do-it-yourself face masks. Guns and ammunition.

            We stock up on whatever we can find.

            Some of us are still stocking up on good manners, compassion, a sense of humor, generosity, gentleness. 

            We rejoice in the stories of people acting selflessly—they are out there. Let us join them.

            We share photos of grocery shelves stripped bare, gag pix of aliens in hazmat gear, cats wearing gas masks, lines of people snaking down the block to stack up on booze before the liquor stores shut down.  We attend concerts online, classes online, art museums online.  Consider enrolling in an Ivy League mooc. Zoom has zoomed into everyone’s vocabulary. 

            We wait for the domino effect of stay-at-home orders from our respective governors.       We reach out to loved ones via phone and text and social media. Bad news, fake news—sometimes, even good news–reaches us instantly, relentlessly. During the Spanish flu, letters could take weeks or months to convey news of deaths, miraculous recoveries, crippled survivals.  There was a grace in such slowness. We wonder what, if anything, our parents with dementia in locked-down nursing homes understand of their abrupt and total isolation. It is probably harder for those who understand what is happening, who wave back to us from their windows. Let us remember to be grateful for the nurses and aides cleaning and feeding and comforting them.

            We, who are still fortunate in all the many privileges of privilege (in health, wealth, multi-room houses, jobs that still exist, spouses or parents or nannies to help with childcare or to help us) watch, trembling, from the sidelines. We rummage through our kids’ art supplies and rediscover the joys of playdoh and crayons and finger-paints. We walk our dogs, or jog or bike or stroll alone or with spouses, our kids, maybe a good friend. We cross the street when we see others approaching but call out hellos.

            We open our windows to welcome the robins who have returned, watch mourning doves courting, note the maple trees turning red at their tips, the willows budding yellow-green, the tulip and daffodil shoots pushing up. We gather our gardening gloves and tools and prepare the flower beds for spring, which will come.



  1. All those blooms are indeed calling us to put on our garden gloves and to get out there and help make things grow. Well done, Mary!

  2. Mary: This is very difficult subject matter, mostly the kind that eludes even the most masterful, but you have pulled it off here without a hitch. The last paragraph soars like few I’ve seen and it (and you) affirm. Which is what we must do. Bob Downs

  3. Oh Mary! You nailed these Hobbesian times and that ending! Yes…we will still say yes, regardless. Hope Chelsea has proper PPS–what a challenging time to be in health care. Thinking of your mom and senior living residences
    too. Images of an empty St Peter’s Square at the Vatican…Geez! (Everybody good here. Hunkering.) xoxo

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