Around the Ides of March, life as we have known it changed. What has since ensued has had the air of a fantasy — a “this-can’t-be-happening” quality. For some, the fantasy has been a nightmare, for neither a Katrina, nor a West Coast earthquake, nor 9/11, nor Middle East wars, nor a stock market crash, etc. has ever done to us what the coronavirus has done to us. In the twinkling of an eye, normalcy vanished.
Since then, there has been hoarding. There have been runs on the bank. There has been price-gouging. There has been panic and hysteria. There has been anxiety, fear and jumpiness (the other day, I coughed a little cough like I’ve coughed a million times before, and a friend standing nearby recoiled as if I had just shot her).
There has been grandstanding. And demagoguery. There has been a physiological threat to our immunity; even worse, there have been spiritual and social threats to our humanity.
But these things are far from being the whole story.
There has been humor that has deflated the pretentious, corrected the erroneous, distracted the disconsolate and bolstered the bummed-out.
There has been courage. Every time I turn on the TV, I see people in battle-dress — lab coats, nurses’ uniforms, masks, gloves — tending to the sick or hazarding their health in laboratories where they try to accelerate the inch-by-inch progress involved in finding a cure.
There has been kindness: neighbors checking on neighbors, running errands, talking to seniors on the phone to dispel loneliness, etc. Retired medical professionals have come out of retirement to volunteer their services. People have stood patiently in long lines without griping or pushing or shoving. Love is kind — there has been an outbreak of love since the outbreak of the disease.
What lies ahead, God alone knows. But I feel confident in saying that soon our towns won’t look like ghost towns. We’ll again have normal traffic on the roads. Children will again be seen playing in the yard. We’ll be able to dine in a restaurant. We’ll be able to take in a movie. We’ll hear the crack of a bat on the diamond and umpires yelling “Safe!” or “Out!”
Our paranoia over a cough or sneeze will evaporate. Social distancing will disappear from our vocabulary. Trips will be rebooked and taken (my May trip to Israel has been canceled). And politicians will be back to their stupid partisan divides. Before long, the good old days will return!
When history looks back on this time in which we’re living, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t see amid all the hardships, readjustments and discombobulations that some old simplicities were touched. Danger has given us a common cause; the American genius for improvisation has been roused; a virus has blown into flame smoldering loyalties and traditions; and it has brought us closer as a country.
But most important, it has made many think of eternity who gave it little thought before.
(Chumbley’s play, “The Goblins and the Gravedigger,” was recently named a quarterfinalist in the NYC International Screenplay Festival.)
Kenny Chumbley, a lifelong resident of Rantoul, is a minister, author and publisher.