Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Vital signs

   It is hard not to feel hopeless during this pandemic. I realized last night that I’m now feeling the same way I felt when I was in the nursing home for four months after my spinal surgery three years ago – like I was in jail.  Except now, it’s even worse, because friends won’t and shouldn’t come over.  My world feels like it’s getting smaller and darker (And I worry about when this will end, especially when I see people out and about and friends tell me about seeing bars packed, despite there being a statewide shelter-in-place order.)
   So, as two friends have asked me, where is there hope?  Where is there light?  Is there any hope, any light in all this?    
   It turns out that things may get better because of this crisis.  For example, here in Los Angeles County, authorities are finding housing and shelter for the homeless within weeks.  This is a process that usually takes months or years, sometimes forever, dragged down by protests and litigation, fueled by NIMBY concerns, residents and businesses not wanting the homeless in their area or town.  Concerned about hygiene, stopping the spread of the coronavirus and also the need to quarantine, the state has been buying up hotel rooms and providing campers and trailers and the county is making over 40 recreation centers available for use as shelters, all in a super-expedited process.  Perhaps, when this crisis is over, this will be a model for dealing, finally, with what has been, up until now, arguably the top crisis in the area. 
   Another example of social improvement coming out of this pandemic can be seen in a friend of mine setting up an online show enabling queer musicians and performance artists to make money when live shows aren’t allowed. This is truly inspiring, showing a can-do spirit and also that at least some performances can be put on relatively cheaply without costly venues and staff.  Likewise, many people, including myself, are learning or being reminded that they can work, have meetings – even Quaker meetings – and visit and socialize – and party – with each other online.  This isn’t the same as in-person contact and activity, but it’s a nice substitute, and a balm, when that isn’t possible. 
   Related to this, there has been an added, unexpected benefit.  In places such as China, where there have been shelter-in-place regimens, air pollution has gone way down, with the sky being far more clear.  With no one driving, the air is much cleaner.
   Like the sky clearing, these are signs of hope, signs of life going on in the face of death, signs that we are not giving up. Not only are we not giving up, we are, if not thrilling per se, making things better.  These are slivers and glints of light in the dark, green sprouts coming up from the black dirt.

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