It was 2012 and Glenda Moore from Staten Island didn’t take the evacuation order seriously. Sandy was promising to be a big storm, but a number of other, later unnecessary warnings, failed to materialize, so she was pretty certain that the best protection for her two boys was her alone. Local authorities didn’t physically force her to leave, so she stayed home, assured by her SUV’s might, if things got bad. Realizing her error too late, she held onto her 2 and 4-year-old boys as long as she could, before the storm’s current ripped them out of her hands. Having spent hours screaming for help she got none. Her neighbors, fearing for own safety, didn’t come to her rescue. She survived nonetheless, doomed forever to mourn the lives of her little ones. Was it her error in judgment or did the city fail to protect her? Should she have been more compliant and left early, or perhaps held onto those kids that much harder? Those questions, as many others, along with the answers, made no difference to her. Her life was permanently damaged, the little ones she introduced to the world were no longer around to grow and experience life for themselves, and all that was left was her profound loss. Just as her screams for help didn’t allow her to save her sons; her tears and emotional turmoil, which followed, didn’t change what happened. There was no explanation good enough, no party to blame, no higher purpose, no refuge in words, no matter how wise. All that was left was pain.
As we entered the highly symbolic year of 2020, all American minds and attention were directed towards the November election. Some found excitement in Democratic candidates’ ideas, be it Andrew Yang’s no longer crazy concept of universal income, Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to fight the injustices of the corporate machine, or Bernie Sanders’ undying will to have a greater role of the Federal government in people’s lives. Others couldn’t get enough of the MAGA slogan, ignoring the warning signs, and loving the President, who once again put America first, at least on paper. There were rumor-like news of another brewing pandemic in the far away land of China, but to most Americans it differed little from other potentially dangerous situations of the recent past, from the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009 to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. As China moved to block an entire Wuhan region in a quarantine, most Americans saw it as little more, than another human rights violation in a former socialist country.
Fast forward to April and from conspiracy theories to misinformation, this situation, not unlike any others in our country, has been marred by one central theme – confusion. Mayor De Blasio went to the gym on March 16th – the last day it was open before quarantine took hold of the city, and only 10 days before that, he was riding the NYC subway, trying to reassure NY residents that ‘everything will be ok’. Ron DeSantis kept the Florida beaches open all through the Spring Break, so the state could benefit from the influx of tourism. President Trump said that the common flu is more deadly, than Covid-19 only a month ago, while calling it ‘another hoax’ at a political rally. The rehearsed slogans and good intentions worked for most for a while, and still do for some, albeit largely in states less affected. The perpetually boring Governor Cuomo, incapable of pleasing Democrats and Republicans alike, who not too long ago was primaried by a Sex in the City actress, suddenly became the American hero and the face of the fight against the pandemic.
Remember, only a couple of weeks ago, Biden and Sanders met at the last Democratic debate, and had to answer the moderator’s question about holding China accountable for the virus, not that different from President Trump calling it ‘the Chinese virus’.
It’s natural for us to find someone to blame for problems. While proclaiming the savagery and lack of civilization of the medieval Muslims, the Papal States Pope’s guidance led Romans to kill, maim and rob on the way to Jerusalem in the infamous crusades, no differently from those, they sough to ‘civilize’. Even thousands of years prior, while celebrating freedom from the Egyptian rule, Jews made a holiday out of the freedom, stained with the death of ‘every firstborn son’. And even more recently, J Edgar Hoover befriended Nazis as the alternative to the Soviet dominance, and FDR claimed that Jewish refugees were too dangerous to accept in the US, while they were escaping from Hitler’s Aryan ascendency. The tendency to blame someone else is not so much an attempt to shield self from shared responsibility, but rather an excuse not to accept responsibility at all, while trying to align it with current interests. 70 years later, how often is our country blamed for sending a thousand Jews back to die at the hands of the Nazi regime? We can barely keep up with outdated historic references to slavery through monuments, and the Dakota pipeline made more news for its economic value, not for the destruction it was sure to bring to Native American lands, regardless of the entire country being stolen from the natives.
Should we blame the entire country of China for a biological experiment in one of its provinces escaping containment? Perhaps China is right, and the US placed the virus there to wreak havoc and pressure China into surrendering the trade war?
Should we perhaps do the same old thing and blame G-d? After all, HE failed to protect us from this. Moreover, the cruelty of the virus is that it mostly hits older and ill people. Was that G-d’s cleansing of sorts, even if different from Noah’s Ark? Yet, didn’t we just not so long ago proclaim the divine beauty of G-d’s forgiveness or G-d’s intent of cursing us with free will, essentially putting us in charge of our own destiny, even if it cost us a place in paradise?
Should we blame Trump for making the country so unprepared to fight this and only focusing on money? Yet didn’t we just a bit ago yell and scream about business success and stock market’s new heights? Haven’t we sung joyful songs about low unemployment figures and even the silliest investments paying off handsomely?
Perhaps it is capitalism to blame and its drive to make money? Then why is it that in socialist USSR and old China, people sought the same wealth accumulation, as everywhere else, even if it often came in different forms?
Maybe the issue is in the way the Federal and State governments interact? With Kushner calling the federal emergency stockpile ‘ours’, whatever it meant, and encouraging states to help themselves, the Strategic National Stockpile website was literally edited the day after his words, to reflect the new ‘help yourself, but don’t forget to pay federal taxes’ message. Not many years prior, many states actually sued the Obama administration not to allow the federal government to change immigration laws. Even more recently, Arizona Sheriff Arpaio was convicted in Federal Court of contempt for anti-immigrant discrimination in performing his job duties. All this, while the electoral college picks a US President, giving same voting power to smaller states with a third of the population of larger ones.
In the meantime, in the middle of this national and global pandemic, our states compete for hospital supplies with each other, as people are dying and economy is sinking, and some states even block access for visitors from other states, giving rise to a new sort of nationalism, which only 2 months ago was seen as an extreme measure taken by the suppressive Chinese government.
No doubt, as time passes, plenty of blame will be assigned. Some conspiracy theories will die out, like Infowars claiming that Sandy Hook shooting was made up; or that Israeli agents orchestrated 9/11. New unfounded theories will no doubt emerge. Yet one thing will remain at least consistent and rather increase: the pandemic death toll. As of April 7th, 2020, it stands at over 81,000 in the world, and nearing 13,000 in the US alone. Families torn apart; talks of burying the dead in New York City parks, as morgues run out of space; and young and healthy, just recently careless kids, dying in ICUs all over. Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and infants, even heads of state in Boris Johnson and Justin Trudeau, experience complications due to this pandemic, and in far too great of numbers, dying. A lot of the deaths aren’t even counted, as testing is in short supply, and once a person passes from pneumonia or similar, no test will be administered.
Suddenly, it is no longer a ‘Chinese virus’. Suddenly, it is no longer a woman’s poor choice in safeguarding her children. Our neighbors, friends, and even relatives, die long before their time. We all get to feel like Glenda Moore today and for much longer, regardless of the curve’s flattening in some areas of the world. We all get to walk around covering our faces on the empty streets of the usually dynamic cities – a fate thought to be China’s in its fight against effects of smog. We all get to feel loss and grieve. We are vulnerable always, but we oftentimes choose not to feel that way. Today is different. As we fight, as we come together, as we isolate and stay away from our families, jobs and hobbies, as we applaud our medical workers, as we overuse Netflix and Zoom, as we learn how to cook, and as we revisit old hobbies, we are all a bit helpless today. We are one.