The world was designed to kill us.
Every time we leave our homes, we manage the risks of death. Will a falling tree hit us? Will we be struck by lightning? Will a poisonous snake bite us? Will we drown at the beach? The list of threats to our existence that each and every one of us confronts each day is staggering.
Added to that list sometime in early 2020 was an invisible killer initially called the “novel coronavirus,” “coronavirus,” and “Covid-19” (or the fancy term “SARS-CoV-2”). Not to mention the growing number of mutant strains: the UK variation (B.1.1.7), the South African variation (B.1.351), the Brazilian variation (P.1), which itself has 17 different mutations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[Note: why do they call it the “CDC” and not the “CDCP?”]
What have you done to cope with this new threat? Many of us have focused on a strategy of distraction, which allows us the chance to think about anything other than dying in hospital hooked to a ventilator. This distraction took many forms of indoor activities, such as:
- Baking sourdough bread
- Doomscrolling about Donald Trump
- Re-reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” for the fourth time
- Making art by bruising bananas
- Re-watching every episode of “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Game of Thrones”
- Trying out the 21-day keto diet, which turned into the six-month keto diet
- Consuming long essays envisioning what life would be like after the pandemic
And yet, we all had to venture into the dangerous out of doors, to leave the confines of our homes to shop for groceries, take long walks, garden, or participate in public demonstrations affirming that Black Lives Matter. With every step taken outside of quarantine, we created a calculus of movement and pondered people in new ways with a heightened sense of situational awareness. Long-dormant survival and self-preservation instincts kicked into action. The electricity of simply being alive flowed to the tips our nerve endings.
We lived very much in the moment: the past irrelevant and the future beside the point.
The question on everyone’s lips: “How are you doing?”
Over every dinner – by now well over 365 meals — my wife and I make a toast. We look each other in the eye, smile wistfully, and say, “another day.” We have survived one more day. Our calculus had worked one more time. We are one more day closer to the end.
As we converse between bites of a keto masterpiece, we know that about one in 10 Americans have been swept up as “reported cases” (with the actual numbers probably much higher) and more than half a million Americans have died from Covid-19. These stark statistics do not begin to assess the swath of damage across families and communities, as well as those caring for the afflicted.
My wife and I recently received both shots of the vaccine. This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of adjusting one’s risk factors. The horizon still contains a lot of uncertainty, but the risks to me feel reduced. For the first time in a year, I believe that — while I could still be infected and get sick or infect others – it is extremely unlikely that I will be hospitalized or killed by Covid-19.
We are making plans to travel, return to the gym, dine at restaurants, take mass transit, go to the movies, stop Zooming church, and hug our loved ones. Our horizon expanded from what we could see in immediately front of us to what we imagined seeing once we became unfettered by the confines of quarantine.
Yet lingering in the dark recesses of my mind is the thought that many of us are not going to return to what we remember as normal. The majority of Americans* are already thinking about how different the future will unfold. Will the new normal be better, worse, or just different? Will we continue to congregate in cities? Will anyone have sex anymore? Will a baby boom follow on the heels of the baby bust? Will we return to work in offices? Will we continue to wear face coverings in public? Will the boomers and Gen Z stop warring?
Will we make adequate preparations for the next contagion?
My wife and I will continue toasting to another day. Not just survival, but celebration. More importantly, we are making plans, looking forward to what tomorrow brings, and continuing to manage risks in a world that has always tried to kill us.
* Some Americans will undoubtedly and willfully try to ignore the effects of this pandemic. The deniers, the anti-vax and anti-mask crowds, and the people who view the pandemic as a political exercise will attempt to go about business as usual. No shock of recognition will change their narratives, their mantras, or their habits. We can control only our own behaviors. Nothing those of us in the vaccinated crowd can tell them will make a difference to them.