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General News    H3'ed 10/7/20

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, Pandemic Living

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After six months away with my children and grandchildren, I'm soon heading back to one of the safer places in pandemic America. I know this will sound strange, given that it once was a hub of death, but I'm talking about my hometown of New York City. What's sad, however, is that, while I'll be back in my apartment of 40 years, I already know that I won't be back in my life of 40 years. How could I be? We're now in another world in every imaginable sense and our former lives are undoubtedly unrecoverable.

At whatever age you may be -- I'm 76 -- and wherever you are, none of us can simply return to those previous existences (even if we never left them in the first place). We're all having to learn how to live life as if from scratch. We're in a pandemic world, with Covid-19 cases again rising in many states (as well as New York City) and an expected fall spike in the disease in a divided and over-armed America. We're talking about the country in which, in an act that seems both unimaginably un-American and -- these days -- all-too-American, the mother of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who killed two Black Lives Matter protesters and wounded a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, received a standing ovation from a Republican women's meeting in that very state. Oh, yes, and the person who invited her to attend that event has been described as "associated with a variety of white supremacist figures and ideas, according to the Anti-Defamation League. She has defended Japanese internment and post-9/11 racial profiling of Muslims, the ADL says, and has called Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization and mocked [it] when its supporters got hit by cars."

I may be old, but I know that in the America of Donald Trump, Amy Barrett, the Proud Boys, and Covid-19, my previous life has been hijacked and, even in New York City, I face a new and increasingly perilous land, one that regularly takes my breath away. As you'll note today, it's done the same to TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan who unmasks a small corner of an unnerving new world in which each of us has to figure out how to survive, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and... well, what passes for health in a distinctly diseased democracy. Tom

The Long Haul
Or Living Through Pandemic-Plus
By Frida Berrigan

After all these months and 210,000 deaths, you'd think I'd be used to it all, but I'm not. It doesn't seem even a little normal yet. I'm still full of absences, missing so much I used to take for granted: hugs and handshakes, rooms crowded for funerals and weddings, potluck dinners and house parties. I miss browsing the stacks at the library and the racks at the thrift shop. I miss going to our Unitarian Universalist congregation and the robust community connection we enjoyed every Sunday.

I should count myself lucky, of course, that such human encounters and quotidian pleasures are all that I miss. I have yet to lose friends or family to Covid-19, I haven't lost my job, and our home is not in danger of foreclosure. Still, I'm at a loss to figure out how to go on.

But that's the work, isn't it? Going on somehow because, if the experts are on target -- and they're hard to hear above the din of the bombast and threats of carnage coming out of Washington -- they say that things won't get back to normal for ayearor longer. They say this is the new normal: masks, distance, existential dread over every sore throat.

Another year... at least. How do I pace myself and my family for the long haul of the pandemic? How do we figure out how to mitigate our risks and still live lives of some sort? Who do we trust? Who do we listen to? And who do we call if a spiking fall or winter pandemic hits us directly?

I'm full of missing and longing, but the thing I miss most poignantly and sharply isn't something (or someone) you could see or touch. What I miss is the privileged (and ultimately false) notion, almost an article of faith for white, middle-class people like me, that the future is predictable, that there is a "normal." I miss good old-fashioned American optimism, that "aw shucks" sentiment that absolves and salves and says with a twang or lilt: It'll be okay. They'll figure it out. Things will get back to normal. This is only temporary.

Pandemic Plus

While most of the developed world has been dealing with the impact of the pandemic in a reasonable fashion -- caring for the sick, burying the dead, enforcing lockdowns and the sort of distancing and masking that seems so necessary -- it's played out differently here in the good old U.S. of A. Here, we have a pandemic-plus -- plus a broken social safety net, a for-profit healthcare system, a war of disinformation, and that's just to start down a list of add-on disasters.

In addition, parts of the United States have been beset by record wildfires, hurricanes, and deadly storms. So add on the impact of catastrophic climate change.

Here in the land of the fearful and the home of the riven, it's been a pandemic plus poverty, plus staggering economic inequality, plus police violence, plus protest, plus white supremacy. It's a nightmare, in other words and, despite those more than 210,000 dead Americans, it's not slowing down. And no matter the facts on the ground, and the bodies below the ground, the president's supporters regularly deny there's the slightest need for masks, social distancing, shutdowns, or much of anything else. So, it's a pandemic plus lunacy, too -- a politically manipulated lunacy spiced with violence and the threat of violence heading into an increasingly fraught election, which could even mean a pandemic plus autocracy or a chaotic American version of fascism. In other words, it's a lot.

Still, it's also the fall and, after this endless summer, my three kids have started school again -- sort of. They are in first, third, and eighth grade. Right now, there's more coaching around masks and distancing than instruction in math and the ABCs. Still, the teachers are working hard to make this happen and my kids are so happy to be away from us that they don't even seem to mind those masks, or the shields around their desks, or the regimented way lunch and recess have to happen. Over the whole experiment, of course, hangs an unnerving reality (or do I mean unreality?): that in-person schooling could dissolve in an errant cough, a spiking fever, and a few microscopic germs catapulting through the air. In fact, that's already been happening in other areas of Connecticut where I live.

After all these months of lockdown, my husband and I automatically wear masks everywhere, arranging the odd outdoor gathering of a handful of friends and trying to imagine how any of this will work in winter, no less long term. Still, bit by bit, we're doing our best to quilt together an understanding of how to live in the midst of such a pandemic -- and that's important because it's so obvious that there's going to be no quick fix in the chaotic new world we've been plunged into.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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