As the U.S. government’s “30 days to slow the spread” order expires, with no indication that President Trump plans to extend it, it’s time to start asking whether it was worth it. Have the extreme social distancing and economic measures to which we have subjected ourselves accomplished the desired result? Was any of it even necessary to begin with?
It’s a question we’ll be debating for years. Depending on where you live, social distancing is going to continue, at some level, for the foreseeable future. It will be a very long time before it’s far enough in the rear view to assess its effect. Even then, there will be no way to know for sure what would have happened had we not taken the approach we did.
In the meantime, there is and will be a strong desire to find some good in our national ordeal, as the thought that we might have done all this for nothing is too depressing to contemplate. Surely it was worth it! Surely we didn’t tank our economy, undermine public health, close our houses of worship, give up basic freedoms, and turn into a nation of latchkey citizens for no good reason! It’s a horrifying thought.
It’s so horrifying, in fact, that many Americans are understandably looking for the good in all this, apart from the intended result. The examples flood social media: Look at how much richer our lives are and what better people we’ve become!
We’ve spent more time with our families, gotten to know our neighbors better, made our pets deliriously happy by staying home with them 24/7, cooked more from scratch, taken up new and rewarding hobbies, Marie Kondo’d every aspect of our existence, planted a vegetable garden, knocked a few titles off our to-read list, and learned better personal hygiene! We’re tanned, rested and ready (well, maybe not tanned), and when this pandemic is over, we’re going to be kinder, gentler people.
I understand the impulse. To a degree, I share it. As a person of faith, I believe in a God that can take the worst human-made mess and bring something good out of it. I believe that He can do that even with this pandemic.
At the same time, something within me bristles at the effort to put lipstick on this pig. It is grating to hear the coronavirus touted as a blessing in disguise: the thing we needed to make the world a better place. I’ve even seen it inexplicably argued that social distancing can make us less lonely. Alone together! That’s Newspeak if I’ve ever heard it.
Yes, adversity can teach us valuable lessons. Tragedy can help us remember what’s most important in life. But for every positive story to be found in this pandemic, there’s a another one showing Americans to be increasingly anxious, depressed, and isolated, more likely to tattle on each other, more dependent on the government, more addicted to our screens, and as politically polarized than ever. So let’s dismiss the notion that this situation can somehow make the world a better place.
Social distancing is not something to celebrate. It is, according to the experts, what we must do right now. But it’s a necessary evil, not a societal good.
Like many, I’ve spent the last couple of months dutifully trying to find the silver lining in this cloud, going down the road not taken, fronting only the essential facts (not to mention retail establishments) of life, and gathering more rosebuds than I know what to do with. But my shoes are muddy, I’m tired and grumpy, and after two months without allergy shots, I can’t step foot outside, much less smell the flowers.
Worst of all, I haven’t been to church, the way church is supposed to be, in two months. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I’m not becoming a better person. I’m struggling, desperately, to hold it all together.
When this shutdown began, I was one of those who joked about how I had trained for this all my life. I am an extreme introvert and committed homebody. I have a harmonious family life. I have been able to continue working full time from home. I’m in relatively good health. I don’t have aged parents to worry about because both my husband’s and my parents are already gone. I am one of the lucky ones.
If social distancing is this hard for me, I can only imagine how hard it is for those who have actually lost loved ones, jobs, and businesses; who are battling serious health problems, mental illness and addiction; who can’t visit their people in hospitals or care centers; who are “sheltering” in abusive situations; or who are trying to survive this ordeal all alone.
That’s why I’m going to keep reminding myself, every day, that everything about the current situation is wrong, bad, and harmful. It’s not a party, a vacation, or a needed opportunity for hope and change. It’s a prison sentence, and the sooner we all get sprung, the better.