Letter from the Vineyard 07 08 2020 Fiddling while we sicken…


“Coronavirus girl” by https://www.vperemen.com is licensed via Creative Commons

Night, soft, gentle, seeped into Vineyard life as I stood outside BTB, the restaurant behind the bookstore, chatting with Gustavo.  He runs the restaurant, I the bookstore, sharing property, owners, and some similar and dissimilar problems.  It was the evening of the 4th, a day different from other 4ths, no parade, no fireworks, no waterfront party to celebrate as rockets’ red glare broke against a starry night.

Different, too, in that entrance to the bookstore requires masks, gloves if you want to touch books, arrows must be followed, occupancy monitored.  This is not the world we once inhabited.

We are learning to read smiles from eyes, not mouths, learning to quickly cover if coming into close proximity with another, learning how to live in this new unnormal, disrupted world.

We have been forced into a new way of living because of the coronavirus; a science fiction novel come to roaring life in our own lives.  Those who failed to heed the call of a world changed are paying a bitter price. Florida refuses to command masking even as infections soar toward the stratosphere.  Texas is buckling into reality, California, so good at the start, tumbling into serious crisis.

We are exhausted with precautions, yearning to return to what was normal only months ago. On Main Street in Edgartown people in familiar groups shun masks as they stroll together, pulling them up encountering strangers.  Cars roll down the street, masks hanging from the rearview mirror, at the ready.

This is our world.  Masks, hand sanitizers, rubber gloves, arrows on the floor, limits on numbers, temperature checks, Zoom, FaceTime, Google whatever they call it this week.  Only 10% of Americans want to return to the office every day.  50% of us have better relationships with our spouses/partners and children. *

The old world is gone; creating a new one, in record time. Nothing like this has happened in the history of the world.  Twenty, thirty years of transformation has been condensed into four months.

Back in America, we have in Donald Trump a president doing his best to emulate Herbert Hoover, who refused to see the problems his country was facing; like Hoover, nothing is as bad as it is, except that it is.  Trump has lost the thread on coronavirus, claiming we have it under control as numbers grow exponentially.  We have 4% of the world’s population, 25% of cases, 25% of deaths.  No, Mr. President, you are woefully wrong.  Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Trump prevaricates as America sickens.

Six weeks ago, 20% of the country relied on Trump as the best source for information on the coronavirus crisis.  Last week it was 12%. Fauci is at 44%. *

Events are cascading upon us.  We have had 1918, 1933, 1968 in four months.  Is it a wonder our minds reel?

“Black Lives Matter,” as a movement, post the death of George Floyd, has had more people participate than any movement in the history of this country.  Time Magazine called this “an overdue reckoning.”

It is.  The country is accepting the grim tardiness of this reckoning, painfully acknowledging treating African Americans in appallingly cruel ways since forcibly dragging them to our shores in chains.  We are understanding, at last, our bigotry to anyone not white.

The country is beginning to accept historical culpability for oppressing people by virtue of skin color.  Small southern towns are showing up for this movement, moved by yet another black man crying out:  I can’t breathe, ending up dead at the hands of the police, who are supposed to protect us.  Whatever George Floyd might have done, he did not deserve to pay with his life.

Social media is a boost and a bane, platforming lies and sharing videos of horrific injustices.

We are at a turning point.  Every fault line in our society is being laid bare; we will have to make it work.  We need to work to be the shining city on the hill or decide to surrender to the nascent oligarchy of the last twenty years.


*Results from the Covid Disruption study conducted by the Center for the Digital Future, USC Annenberg, where I am a Senior Fellow, study with a 3% +/- margin of error.




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