Will we learn, or just return?
“I’m getting sick of this virus!” the six-year-old said, stamping her little sandals, while the adults wryly chuckled over the ambiguity in her expostulation.
Getting back to normal is what she wants. And it’s what so many of us want. The coronavirus has proved to be terrifying, and irritating, and threatening, and inconveniencing, and fascinating, and boring. Enough already.
It would be a shame, however, if when this wave recedes we all simply returned to first position. For the global stress of this pandemic has brought to the surface elements of a “normal” that ought never to have been tolerated, let alone yearned for.
We are learning how bad our eldercare is—and the people we have entrusted with their care. Exposés have come and gone and yet still we warehouse them with undertrained and underpaid staff, drug them into compliance, and fail to give them proper hospice care in their darkest hours. How dare we go back to “normal”?
We are learning how overtaxed our healthcare systems are. News reports have come and gone, and yet we still allow healthcare officials to run inefficient systems that leave patients in hallways and “elective” surgeries—like badly needed joint replacements—languishing for months. How dare we go back to “normal”?
We are learning how clueless our politicians can be. We’ve known about their deficits and demerits all along, but the crisis has brought to the fore the obtuse self-centredness of narcissists who love campaigning but have no idea how to govern, let alone to truly lead. How dare we go back to “normal”?
We are learning how fragile so many students are. Surveys and stories have emerged about the mental health crises on campus, and yet we continue to underfund counseling services, often leaving to poorly trained staff the vital frontline work of assessment and screening while students flounder away from home (or in dysfunctional homes) only to silently disappear from class. How dare we go back to “normal”?
We are learning how shallow our churches are. Massive efforts are going into making sure the Sunday morning show goes on, and pastors congratulate themselves and each other on “clicks” and “visits.” Meanwhile, it is apparent that sheltering in place for so many Christians means precisely no change at all in their relationships with the other Christians in their congregation. How dare we go back to “normal”?
And we are learning how low our mental horizons typically are. We have long wondered if Google and Netflix are making us stupid, and now we have days of hours to see. Many of us are desperately filling the time with binge-watching and net-surfing until we return to work. We have little to say to each other, and little to do for or even with each other. How dare we go back to “normal”?
There are lots of splendid exceptions to these generalizations, to be sure: many excellent facilities and caregivers for our seniors, many well-run wards and clinics, many capable politicians, many resilient students, many robust churches, and many creative families. But who will gainsay that covid-19 has also starkly shown us realities to which we mustn’t revert?
Albert Camus’s famous novel, The Plague, is being quoted a lot nowadays, and particularly his line that “perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men,” pestilence would come again.
Yes, the coronavirus has been a terrible bane. But it has also cast a harsh light over the landscape, throwing into stark relief dreadful facts we have heretofore tolerated, condoned, and even supported.
How dare we go back to “normal”?