COVID-19 HAS FOUND OUR WEAKNESS, BUT ALSO OUR STRENGTH
Our collective memory fails us, because we’ve never seen a virus like this in our lifetimes. This is the virus that makes us stand six feet apart. The virus that makes socializing illegal, and tears at the very fabric of our civility.
There have been others in history, as Art Chance wrote last week. But we don’t really remember them, do we? We conquered polio and smallpox and forgot about them.
You see the edginess of people on Facebook more and more with the angry posts and the inharmonious chest-beating.
Here at Must Read Alaska, the editor has had to put a handful of commentators in quarantine, either due to their scare-mongering misinformation, or because they are dropping nasty-bombs on other commenters and they risk destroying our civil discourse.
On the trails in Anchorage and Juneau, people veer away from each other now. They don’t intend to be standoffish, but they don’t make eye contact. Their glances are furtive, and they don’t smile or greet one another as much. They are sticking to themselves; the expressions on their faces are reserved, despite the gorgeous spring weather and long evenings that are with us.
This is a community — and a state — under stress. And we’ve only just begun what is essentially a statewide shutdown of almost all operations.
At 10 pm on March 22, the gong won’t sound and the bells won’t toll, but the city of Anchorage will go quiet. The shelter-in-place order by the mayor has asked everyone to just stay home until this invisible wave of virus passes over, and when it is finally unable to find a host, it passes out and dies. This could take months, if this is our only tool.
The last-minute manic buying is done and the stores will be restocked by midweek, and the frenzy will come to an end. But during the stampede for essentials, the opportunists have found a prey.
At Carrs on Huffman, this writer witnessed the first instance of looting she has seen during this crisis — a cart fully loaded to the gills was pushed by a determined young woman going out the “in” door by the flower shop, completely unobserved by management and most harried shoppers. There is no way to go out that door if you’ve paid for your groceries. She had no receipt in hand, but possessed that “don’t mess with me, I’m a pro” look on her face. She was, to this observer, taking advantage of the chaos and collective worry inside the store.
The coronavirus has thus already frayed civility in our communities, and now we in the process of locking our doors against our neighboring towns and villages. To an extent that is a normal reaction, we are fearful of what “the other people” may bring to us.
Emily Dickinson once wrote in a poem, “Hope is the thing with wings, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.”
We need hope to restore the sense of community now, before the spirit of community is lost. So let’s start with this: There are good things about slowing down.
A dear friend described how he had not spent much time with his mother in what felt like forever, and now he is hearing stories of her childhood, stories he had never heard in his 30-some years.
Families are calling each other, mending fences and old grievances, and some Alaskans are reaching out to elderly neighbors and those with disabilities, offering to help.
The good side of humanity is still alive, and it’s more than just a spark. It just needs but some small fanning of the flame to restore that sense of connectedness against a virus that seeks to tear us apart.
We’re just heading into an extended community shutdown across Alaska. We cannot shake hands, we cannot hug, and with a six-foot rule, we cannot even do an elbow bump or a foot bump. The virus is attacking our humanity and it’s barely even arrived.
This serious challenge for Alaska may last for many weeks. Now is the time to be the one who keeps your wits about you, who keeps a sense of humor, a smile for a stranger ready to go at a moment’s notice.
We are bigger than this coronavirus, and we’re better as a state when we are united. So let’s unite against the virus, not fracture against each other. Let’s remember our shared humanity as we go through this next door together.
For although COVID-19 has certainly found our weakness, which is our human need for the closeness of other humans, the virus is also going to find our greatest strength: Our determination to survive and to be touching, caring, and loving humans.
Suzanne Downing is the editor of Must Read Alaska.