At least I’ve found a bright side: learning patience.
“No television for a MONTH?”
To me, a 16-year-old TV junkie, the punishment felt barbaric. To my mother, it was a fittingly excruciating penalty for my having fallen asleep at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party, where she frantically tracked me down the next morning.
“A month is FOREVER. I’ll DIE!” I wailed.
Mercifully, Mom commuted my sentence to two weeks, which still felt like an eternity.
Patience has never been my virtue. I am that person who drums her fingers on the shopping cart handle as the customer ahead scrounges for exact change; repeatedly asks “are we there yet?” on long car rides; and heaves exasperated sighs when a passing train or raised draw bridge halts my driving.
Lockdown has pushed my patience to the brink. I’ve paced every room of my house, gnawed my nails, snapped at my husband — and a few deliverymen — and badgered the director of my gym for news of its opening. At peak frustration, I have even selfishly walked mask-less through town and in nearby woods where people are few and far between. Enough is enough! I’m healthy. I tested negative for the virus. I never cough or sneeze. Besides, the risk of outdoor transmission is miniscule. How much damage can one person do?
The fact is, if enough people indulge their impatience by shunning masks like I once did, or by refusing to practice social distancing, then the damage, namely, the increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths, not to mention continued unemployment and economic devastation, will be tremendous.
Just look at the rising infection rates in states like Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, which rushed to reopen, as well as increasing incidences of disease among young adults across the country, who have congregated on beaches and rooftops, in parks, and at outdoor bars.
Yet, despite the virus spiking in most states, more than 140,000 deaths nationwide and tens of thousands more expected, and the country recently hitting its highest daily death toll since May, there is a hasty push to send people who could work remotely back to offices, and to reopen schools.
Admittedly, I am one of the fortunate few who can work from home without young children to educate or entertain. But next to my own impatience, nothing seems more foolhardy and dangerous than mandating returns to work and school at a time when COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising. The Florida Education Association agrees: it is suing the state’s governor and education commissioner over their order for in-person schooling to resume without reduced class sizes or guarantees of proper protective supplies for teachers.
Although I can’t stop such rashness, I can stop my own — most of the time. And so must all of us. No matter how desperately we want our gyms to reopen, hate wearing masks in summer swelter, and miss hugging our friends, we simply must wait.
After all, we are in this pandemic together. Wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance are not just good public health measures. They are signs of mutual respect and solidarity. It may feel like forever until a vaccine arrives, but it isn’t. What is forever, on the other hand, is death.
In 1976, a couple of years after I’d briefly lost my television-watching privilege, I contracted mononucleosis. I was a high school senior, sick enough to miss prom. Intent on proving that I was well enough to compete in the national speech tournament for which I’d qualified, I walked to a nearby shopping center one very hot, sunny day. Within half an hour, I nearly passed out. A cab miraculously delivered me home, where my doctor confined me for an extra three weeks: time I would have saved had I just stayed put.
Those weeks in bed felt like a death sentence, just like losing TV. But a real death sentence — one we can help each other to avoid — is staring us in the face.
The actions each of us takes affects the health and safety of those around us.
So, come on, America. Let’s bite the bullet and practice patience. No one knows better than I, for whom any amount of waiting feels like forever, that this is easier said than done.
And if I can do it, you can do it.