The language of isolation continues to evolve. Americans had been exhorted a couple of months ago to practice discipline and help “flatten the curve.” We hear more often these days a more uplifting phrase, “when all this is over.”
Normality gets scant attention until folks become deprived of it. Pandemic consciousness has depleted us, the Zoom-sessioned, online shopped-out, streaming service-overloaded masses.
Admit the exhaustion. Months ago, you might have yearned for more time for reading. Given this time, you discover some books just don’t seem that good.
Maybe even reading instincts have been Netflixed, our brain circuitry now conditioned to bounce from thing to thing.
Can you blame us? People can’t stay dry from the flood of bad news.
An invasion of locusts has plagued India. Murder wasps crept across the American border. Earthquakes near Yellowstone National Park supposedly presaged a super-volcano. A space rock roughly the size of the Empire State Building will pass within interstellar proximity of Earth.
Would a rainstorm of frogs surprise anyone?
Once the reopening from the coronavirus eased upon the scene, a long overdue reckoning of the nation’s racial injustices occupied our attention.
And this is quite different. The striving for normalcy, the goal for “when all this is over,” has been diverted in a relevant way. This disquiet suits us as Americans.
Through tragic circumstances, one more life lost, a conversation has begun about national inequities regarding race.
When these topics got raised in presidential debates during the months preceding the pandemic shutdown, they got little traction, and the candidates espousing them slowly disappeared from view.
Sadly, it took a national trauma, the on-camera death of George Floyd, and nationwide protests to focus Americans on systemic problems of long standing.
Sure, whites have been slow on the uptake. It’s been 57 years since Medgar Evers, 52 years since Dr. King, eight years since Trayvon Martin, and on and on.
The bell has been ringing, and black Americans might be excused for wondering, “Are you not hearing this?”
These protests of the last two weeks have a singular emphasis but a diverse group of messengers. To call them demonstrations by young black citizens defies simple observation. In city after city, those in the streets have been of every racial background, with older folks lined up with the young.
As this has played out, there have been acts of brutality and those of kindness and solidarity. Looters and worse have seen the circumstances only as opportunity, but far more people have taken up the call of the First Amendment “peaceably to assemble.”
This is in our best tradition. You want normalcy, the old days? These are the very oldest days of the nation, standing against a government when feeling wronged.
The question arises then whether the nation can survive the trauma of all these crises, if it’s even possible.
From the hardships of the Great Depression came the Greatest Generation. Yeah, given the history and character of Americans, I think we’ve got this.
The country that emerges from the travails of 2020 might be better prepared for the next sweeping virus and might reform itself into a place where all citizens count and have a voice.
Savor that irony, the times that promised to “Make America Great Again” doing precisely that, but not in the way that wearers of red caps imagined.
This experiment of democracy has always been hard work, the forging of a better union, and we’ll outlive these toils.