Here’s a question: what should healthy, young people who have a very limited risk of becoming gravely ill from Covid-19 be doing with their time (assuming they are working in an “essential” field and their lives are currently on a sort of hiatus)? Is there any way for a young person to act intrepidly or bravely in the midst of the pandemic? After all, I don’t want it to seem like I’m just lambasting young adults for sitting at home when they could be contributing to the overall betterment of their town/city/country/world by working in an “essential” field or using the extra time to do something entrepreneurial (I realize that may have seemed like another backhanded slap). I understand that many are in difficult positions, and even more just don’t know what to do, and if they’re listening to the media they think they’ll die if they walk outside without a mask. What I find immensely concerning about the group response to Covid-19 is that we’ve now normalized inactionas the ideal, even heroic response to illness. Rather than give a generation something to aspire to, we’ve instead decided to kill the concept of heroism in the face of pandemic. Young people are definitely not the only ones to blame for this – paranoid parents, local politicians striving to appear “in-control” and a obsessively risk-averse culture have.
By an anonymous contributor:
“In these trying times…”
“Do your part to stop the spread.”
“We’re all in this together.”
and yesterday I heard this one:
“Be a hero, stay 6 feet away.”
Scanning through the radio, flipping through the TV or scrolling through social media, you simply cannot avoid the above three catchphrases at any point of your day unless you’re sitting on a mountainside in the Canadian Rockies without cell service. They seem to clog any moment not engaged in another thought. As someone who tends toward the cynical side, I find most popular catchphrases to become annoying after hearing them more than five times in a day. Other popular sayings that come to mind include, “give your garbage another life, “the more you spend the more you save” and probably the worst of all, “love is love” (the latter seems to borrow without permission from Gertrude Stein’s famous poem: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”). However, there’s been something particularly concerning, almost alarming, about our current sayings, something that I’ve not been able to quite put my finger on.
As of today, I finally realize why they bother me.
We’ve been told that the current world crisis is our generation’s “World War II,” “September 11” and Spanish Flu all wrapped into one. I realize that at the time these words are typed, we’re seeing every day more and more that this is not any of those things (though I’ll submit to the possibility that the fallout could be on par or even worse to some of them). That being said, the lockdowns continue, and an increasingly stark divide seems to forming between the “open everything up so we don’t lose our businesses and the third world doesn’t starve” people and the “stay locked down for as long as Google and my governor says to” people. I’m not that interested in the political fray – the reader can guess where the writer stands. But the question remains: if it is the case that this is our World War II moment, then why are millions of healthy, able bodied young people spending entire days, weeks and now months quite literally scrolling through their Instragram feeds and “binging” Netflix shows? Where is the home gardening movement? The accelerated nurse training programs? The openings at the ventilator factory?
I anticipate the immediate backlash: “Of course they’re at home; EVERYBODY should be at home to stop the spread!” I understand that. I also understand the reason that heavy-handed quarantine restrictions were put in place. I also understand that young people in particular sometimes act selfishly and go to beaches to party instead of “sheltering-in-place.” I understand that many people, even young people have medical conditions that require them to try to limit exposure to anything that will destroy their immune system (for a nightmare level version of this in particular, see “The Spanish Flu”). Believe it or not, I even understand that we’re in a time and place where security is valued far above freedom. All of that makes sense. Now let me tell you what I don’t understand.
I don’t understand how we can be “all in this together” if we’re by definition on our own, except for $1200 we got to pay the rent and Google Hangouts. I don’t understand why Elephant Butte, New Mexico should have the same lockdown restrictions as New York City. I don’t understand why economically disastrous lockdown decisions have been made almost exclusively by individuals who will not have to suffer any of the consequences of these decisions. I don’t understand why so many of us get our up-to-the-minute information from media outlets and pundits who only realized 15 minutes ago that locking down Nigeria would mean that people couldn’t sell their fish at the local market and thus wouldn’t be eating that night or any nights to follow till the lockdowns are lifted. Most of all, I don’t understand what’s noble about a sturdy 20-year old staring at their phone screen in their room for 16 hours a day simply because they aren’t doing the same thing at the local coffee shop while there are half-a-dozen openings at the local grocery store and hospital. Unfortunately, these barely scratch the surface of what doesn’t make sense about collective human behavior in 2020.
To be sure, heroes have reared their heads during this time, and I don’t need to go through a list of who they are because if there’s one thing that we’ve done decently as a society, it’s show our appreciation for those who have kept going to work (though I’m almost itching to death to point out that they still have jobs and will more than likely continue to after the lockdowns lift). As long as we’re talking about heroes, who exactly the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic? Scientists? Doctors? Nurses? Nurse’s Aides? What about nursing home staff? Grocery workers? Politicians? All essential workers? People who “follow the rules?” I wouldn’t argue that the individuals above could fit into the heroic category, but there seems to be at least one crucial category missing: Where are the people who are willing to potentially expose themselves to the virus to provide comfort/care to the dying (excluding hospital staff of course)? Pastors, church leaders, musicians or really anyone who would be willing to take a risk while staying with the suffering infected and dying – but there is no place for such individuals in a 2020 pandemic, all of that pressure must fall on doctors, nurses and medical aides alone.
Let’s make it more personal. The problem is that if you’re a young person with a strong immune system, there’s nothing heroic about staying inside your house for two months. There’s also nothing healthy about it. In fact, homebound individuals are generally considered to be unhealthy in some way – that’s usually why they’re homebound and require assistance from outside sources. Additionally, while the statistics will more than likely take years to come out, the uptick of tech and pornography addiction, as well as drug and alcohol abuse probably defies the imagination at this point. There are macro reasons to stay home and everyone’s situation is different, but on a micro level there are almost certainly opportunities in your local area to chip in somewhere and help your community, or to financially better yourself and/or your family.
Here are some practical ideas especially if you’re a young person who doesn’t have a compromised immune system:
1) If you belong to a church or community group of any kind, go through the directory and call the people (especially elderly ones) and ask if there’s anything they need, any help they could use (gardening, chores around the property, etc.) or even just talk to them for bit.
2) Sign up for a food delivery service like Doordash, Instacart or Postmates(availability will depend on location). Not only can you assist people who need assistance, you can make money while doing it (you can even make money from people who are simply too paranoid to go out themselves).
3) As lockdowns start to ease, volunteer to go into areas that have Covid-19 positive patients (if you’re allowed to) and play guitar, read a book or just talk to the patients. It’s very lonely sitting in a hospital bed day after day without anyone to visit you.
4) Get a job in a local restaurant or grocery store. There are loads of openings due to increased demand. This is an opportunity to have a regular life during this bizarre time in our history.
5) Plan. Times ahead will probably be tough economically speaking. Many are unwilling to work at all for fear of exposure or simply because they’ve tasted getting a paycheck without working. Think long and hard about how to emerge from this period better off financially, physically, mentally and spiritually then you went in. Then make plans.