Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Life Force

By Bretigne Shaffer - June 18, 2020 at 09:28AM

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I don't get out much. I joke that my husband and I have been "sheltering in place" for the past thirteen years, ever since our son was born. So it had been a while since I'd been out to a grocery store. Since the beginning of "all this", in fact. But this morning our daughter had a bad seizure,  we used our last Diastat on her, and I had to go to the pharmacy to get more. 

I was prepared for what I would see, but not for what I felt. Everyone was wearing masks–not like on the streets in our neighborhood–even in the parking lot, even in the afternoon heat. And when I walked inside, with mine around my neck, the woman stationed at the door called out to me and told me to put it up. I had already decided I wasn't going to argue with anyone or try to explain why it was stupid to wear one in this situation, so I just put it up and went in.

I'm not sure I can describe how being there made me feel. Isolated, maybe? Everyone walking around in these masks and staying apart from each other, and nobody having a clue how all the others feel about it, whether they are genuinely afraid of the virus and believe the mask will help protect them from it, or whether they think the whole thing is stupid but just needed some hamburger buns. Because of the masks, we can't read each others' expressions, but the overall impression is one of universal compliance, unquestioning obedience. Of course it is–you can't get in the store without a mask, so everyone inside is wearing a mask. I did it too.

Even knowing that, I found it hard not to judge the people around me–the ones who were doing exactly what I was doing. And I had to marvel at the almost brilliant efficacy of this scheme in creating yet another division to rip through society. Yet another way to divide people into "usses" and "thems". The Maskers, and the Anti-Maskers, and how we're all being pushed into taking sides.

Here we all are, just trying to go about our lives, and we suddenly have this new world thrust upon us: A world where a whole lot of people are scared to death of a virus, and if you're not also scared to death, then you are the enemy. You are as dangerous as the virus and are to be opposed. There are the state-imposed orders about social distancing, but there is also the genuine fear among a great many people. And it's hard to argue with fear.

I left the store feeling very heavy and very sad. Sad for what my society is becoming, sad for the people in the store, sad for me, and for my inability to do anything to change it. I guess this is why fear is such a very powerful tool, why it is over and over again the tool of choice for those who wish to wield power over others. Because when people are afraid enough, reason ceases to matter.

I can rattle off a long list of reasons, with sources to back them up, for why most people do not need to fear Covid-19; reasons (again with sources) why cloth masks aren't going to do much if anything to protect most people in most situations from becoming infected; and most importantly, reasons (with mountains of sources) why EVEN IF THIS WAS A TRULY DEADLY THREAT TO ALL OF US, government-dictated solutions are the absolute WORST response possible. We've seen this last part in bold, flashing, neon living color this time around, yet I doubt that very many have even grasped it, and I am certain that when a much worse virus appears, they will clamor for more of what has proved so completely disastrous this time.

They're afraid. And when people are afraid, they're not so good at thinking rationally. All they want is for Mommy and Daddy to save them, and for far too many people, Mommy and Daddy means the state.

So I'm not sure how to describe what I felt as I left the grocery store. I felt almost as if I was gasping in disbelief, as if I had witnessed something historic and significant, but like a time traveller who isn't allowed to change the course of history, all I could do was stand open-mouthed and watch in horror. No, not horror. Just sadness.

"You have to go down in order to go up." It's something an old ballet teacher of mine used to say. What she meant was that you can't jump very high from straight legs. You need to first bend your knees and plie down low, giving you the force to spring upwards. 

We are down very low now. We should be thinking very carefully about where we want this deep grand plie to take us.

The grocery store happened to be around the corner from the rehab facility where my father spent the last few months of his life. I used to drive down there nearly every day, and now even setting off on that path brings back those memories, so I try to avoid it. But today, sitting in my car, I felt an overwhelming urge to go there. Just to go sit in the parking lot for a few minutes. I felt that there would be some comfort there. And a very tiny piece of me still believes that if I were to go inside, I would find him there. Sitting up in his bed, watching an old movie or maybe talking with my sister or my mom.

So I drove there. And I parked in the lot, and I cried. I remembered my dad's last weeks and days there. There was one elderly lady in a wheelchair, who was always clutching a life-sized baby doll to her whenever I saw her. I wonder now if she is still there. And I wonder how many of the residents there don't understand why their people aren't coming to visit them anymore.

The costs of the crime that is being perpetrated on us are incalculable.

I started up the car again to go home, and found that that made me cry even harder. I was sobbing now, and driving, and I realized I had to go to my mom's house. So I drove there. I went up and knocked on the door, still sobbing. She opened the door and I told her where I had been. She hugged me and we stood there holding each other and my tears fell on her white hair.  We went inside–neither of us wearing masks–and talked about my dad. I could see the pain in her face, and for the first time ever her eyes reminded me of my grandmother's.

One of the last things my dad said to my youngest sister–but I think he meant it for all of us–was: "Whatever you do, do it for the life force."

Don't worry Daddy, we will.

Reprinted with permission from Author's blog.

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