I love Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s book “Love in the Time of Cholera” (an Oprah Book Club selection), although this blog post is about a different kind of love. I’m only borrowing Gabo’s title, not the plot, no never the plot. Gabo’s too deep, I’m too shallow. My usual words have felt particularly hollow of late, what with all of our combined fears about the coronavirus. I mean, with everything else, what’s one severely autistic kid more or less?
I hear comparisons to Katrina (August-September 2005). I hear comparisons to H1N1 (2002) and Ebola (2010, 2014). But those don’t quite capture this moment. What I don’t hear, but what I feel, is the financial and part-existential crisis of September and October 2008. I’m not comparing stock market valuation here. I’m comparing the feeling of impending doom, the feeling of “hey, what if all THIS that a month ago was so important…what if all THIS just went away? What then?”
If everything stops, who to help first? Besides the actual victims and medical workers, who’s hurting most from a new era of “social distancing”? This week I saw a New York Times headline essentially saying “Feel Sorry For Airbnb Hosts.” As an Airbnb host, I’m guessing there are a lot of other professions that this pandemic is hitting harder, including restaurant workers, hotel workers, airline workers, airport workers, independent contractors, drivers, event planners, theater workers, personal trainers, home healthcare providers, social workers, bartenders, and about 400 jobs I haven’t thought of. We can’t imagine how this affects everyone at the margins; we can’t imagine changed margins.
For all our metrics and expertise, we’re still missing a lot. Facebook, Google, and Amazon know everything I say and do, how to do my job, my medical and every other kind of history, and that of almost every other American…and yet FB, G, and A still don’t know if a hypothetical Biden candidacy will have better odds of defeating Trump if it appeals to Bernie-level progressives OR McCain-level moderates. And yet FB, G, and A still don’t know how to best protect us in a pandemic. Thanks for everything, and thanks for nothing.
If we remember March 2020, I hope we remember that odd existential dread that drove us inside, where we were even more likely to stare at screens all day. (You know, like the one you’re reading this on.) Social media is in some ways less healthy than a coronavirus, exacerbating our worst tendencies and partisanship and need to blame people. Like you, I probably don’t yet have the virus, but I AM sick and tired of yet another 21st-century American problem that is everyone’s fault and no one’s fault (global warming, gun violence, medical costs, student debt, et cetera) and therefore the powers-that-be can and will defer accountability AGAIN. But if we don’t blame, if we spiritually hold together while holed up in our houses, what do we do? Watch the news and stream movies about pandemics? That may not exactly be helping us either.
Leaving the house is almost worse. You can feel the “I’m normal, are you?” looks on faces. It’s like movies and shows, but it isn’t. It’s like some scenes in The Walking Dead, but not really. Some strangers are still offering hands. (What. The. Fork?! Get that grubby germ paw away from me!) Life is still happening, but everything is in quotation marks. I was at my neurotypical kid’s school for the first half hour of class on Tuesday, as parents and aides looked at each other with a certain wary savvy.
Or maybe we’re all just feeling the constant feeling of…wait, where did that itch come from? Did I just feel an urge to cough because of phlegm or some other reason? Am I achier than usual or is that just normal? Whoa, phantom pain! Wait, it went away. Or did it? Ahhhhhhhhhhhh
Humanity may yet benefit from this pandemic, in the sense of smaller carbon footprints or greater urgency for better health care or in other ways. If we do benefit, it certainly won’t be because of anything you read or heard from any single person, me included. It’ll be because of a concatenation of calamities and conversations. I hope these at least continue online. What if this thing not only puts us in our houses but also cuts off all electricity? It’s one thing to be disabled, quite another to be dis-cabled. Here’s hoping Andrew Yang’s best robots will keep the lights on. Here’s hoping this pandemic eventually makes a great new Dick Wolf spinoff series called Law & Hoarder.
Joking aside, this thing could get a lot worse, could potentially exert an unimaginable leveling effect on our population of elder people, like a mini-Logan’s Run. The news from Tom Hanks makes me imagine a world in which we look back fondly on the day Max Von Sydow died, remembering when it seemed novel for a 90-year-old celebrity to suddenly pass.
Ah, Max Von Sydow. He brought unexpected humor to melodramatic films and unexpected gravitas to funny films (Strange Brew, anyone?). There’s a line of his that has been ricocheting through my head ever since I started my blog. It’s from Ingmar Bergman’s one and only movie in English, sometimes called The Touch, sometimes called Beroringen. Von Sydow loses his wife’s (Bibi Andersson’s) affections to a Holocaust survivor (Elliott Gould). At a certain point, Von Sydow blurts in frustration at Andersson, “Suffering cannot go on and on! There has to be an end to it!” He may have meant mourning the Holocaust, or he may have meant other sufferings seen in the film. He most certainly was not talking about raising a severely autistic child.
But that’s how I’ve chosen to hear it. Suffering cannot go on and on…and yet, it does. Maybe another analogy is like a dripping faucet, or motorcycles that pass under your window. Somehow, after years of possible acclimatization, they can still cause at least some degree of suffering. So for nearly ten years, I’ve found myself disagreeing with Von Sydow, at least in my mind. Suffering can go on. And coronavirus? Maybe that’s just one more thing that can go on and on. Maybe that’s just another new normal that we never should have normalized.
They say that the sick are more vulnerable in a time of coronavirus, but I don’t believe my Dar is that kind of sick. I doubt he’s more susceptible than anyone else. On the other hand, what about his schoolmates in a place where every student has severe special needs? Maybe that’s why they called us on Monday that he “seemed a little warm” and “was tired.” As a courtesy, we picked him up right away, but the minute he got home we saw he was neither warm nor tired. And that pickup made us miss watching the quarantined cruise ship arrive in Oakland! Oh well.
If Dar does get the virus, I’ll be looking at the bright side. I suspect he and we will survive it, and build up immunity, and do our part to help our community be immune.
I find myself hugging and kissing him more lately. Just a feeling, I guess.
Meanwhile Dar had his “triennial” IEP. You might have thought I’d have been preparing you for this for months! Triennial! Once every three years! Wowowow!
For us, the day of a triennial is just another day that ends in Y (or, in our case, “why??”). “The good news is that Dar still qualifies for services!” Right. Duh. Love to all my marginal-case peeps out there, but Dar ain’t no marginal case.
The news is that he has regressed in some areas, improved in others. Whoop de woo.
At some point I may provide more details about Dar’s triennial. At some point I may get excited about my birthday this Saturday. But right now, does any of that really matter, with the world spinning off its axis?
Maybe we can all get around to those things we’ve always said we wanted moretime for. For example, reading dense authors like Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. To finish this post, here’s a paragraph from “Love in the Time of Cholera”:
“Independence from Spain and then the abolition of slavery precipitated the conditions of honorable decadence in which Dr. Juvenal Urbino had been born and raised. The great old families sank into their ruined palaces in silence. Along the rough cobbled streets that had served so well in surprise attacks and buccaneer landings, weeds hung from the balconies and opened cracks in the whitewashed walls of even the best-kept mansions, and the only signs of life at two o’clock in the afternoon were languid piano exercises played in the dim light of siesta. Indoors, in the cool bedrooms saturated with incense, women protected themselves from the sun as if it were a shameful infection, and even at early Mass they hid their faces in their mantillas. Their love affairs were slow and difficult and were often disturbed by sinister omens, and life seemed interminable. At nightfall, at the oppressive moment of transition, a storm of carnivorous mosquitoes rose out of the swamps, and a tender breath of human shit, warm and sad, stirred the certainty of death in the depths of one’s soul.”