The Beginning Of The After

Today I take The Kid for her second shot.

Spouse is two weeks behind her; I am three. (Privilege of youth for me.) We’ve been talking about all the things we need to do once we’re all properly vaccinated: get some kitchen appliances replaced, all the dental appointments, looking for summer work for The Kid. And I’ll visit my parents, at last, although their situation has changed. I’ll be speaking with their caregivers to figure out the best way to approach the situation. I think it’ll be a while before any of us eat inside a restaurant.

A little over a year ago, The Kid’s school went to remote teaching. At that point we weren’t even sure it’d last until the end of the school year. I was naively confident the government would properly isolate the infection, or the thing would burn itself out, and we’d all be back to normal in a couple of months. When the school went remote for the remainder of the year, we were all pleased; it was less disruption for her, even though the reason was dire.

And in the summer, when infections started to drop around here? I began to be a little bit hopeful for the fall, for her to have something resembling a normal school year. I’d given up on the federal government having any kind of coherent messaging, but our state government seemed to be doing all right; daily infections went down to 2 per 100,000, and I thought soon I’d see daily numbers at zero. Perhaps I’d be able to see my parents at Thanksgiving. Christmas, surely.

But our local government began failing the same way the federal government had: catering to the entirely bogus concept of “economic reopening,” prioritizing opening businesses over keeping people alive.

Do I blame them for this? I do. I also know why it happened, and it’s not entirely the fault of the people in charge. We don’t live in a society that’s able to look after people in an emergency. We don’t have the infrastructure to truly shut things down. We can’t get food and supplies to people. We can’t maintain basic emergency services without putting people in danger of infection. If we’d done it at the start–six weeks of hard lockdown and rigid rules–we might have managed to get on top of this and keep it fairly subdued until the vaccines rolled out.

We were never going to do that under That Orange Person. He thought the whole thing made him look bad, so he told people it was made up, overblown, only affected unimportant people. Because he was outraged at the idea that he might look bad.

I’m appalled. Constantly. And if I start thinking about everything that’s happened, everything that’s happening, everything that’s still broken and won’t get fixed, how close we still are to falling into dictatorship–I will become paralyzed.

So today I drive my kid into the city, and we wait in line and talk to cheerful health care workers, and she gets her second shot and we come home to wait through side effects. And we can talk about a summer job, for real, because she might actually be able to do one safely, and we can talk about college applications and school in person in the fall.

And seeing her friends, and her family.

What we’ve done to her, to all of our children, is unconscionable.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m pretty pissed off for myself, too. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that nobody in my immediate family has died of this thing. But I’ve watched from a distance as my father has deteriorated considerably, watched as my mother’s memory gets thinner and she becomes hyperfocused and worried on things that don’t make sense. And I’ve watched my child get insular and desperate and angry and so, so hurt because the world is broken, utterly broken, and I cannot fix it for her. My God, if I could, I would fix it for all of us.

This past year has been 1/57th of my life. It’s been 1/17th of hers. For younger kids, it will loom larger. It will be a piece of them in a way it won’t be for us. It will shape them: what they prioritize, what they fear, what they choose to do now and what they choose to postpone.

This pandemic has affected the whole world, and it’s selfish and somewhat irrational of me to focus primarily on the response of my own government. Humans suck at risk assessment in general, and the US will pull out better than many places not because we did the right things but because we have money and (to an extent) infrastructure, and we’re blatantly selfish about this kind of thing. But every hiccup here is just a microcosm of the whole world: serving people without fixed addresses, protecting those in extreme poverty, making sure people who must work can do so safely while also caring for their families. We’re not set up to do any of that, and most countries in the world have the same social cracks.

Our society, here in the US, hasn’t been formed to look after people. Whatever its initial ambitions–which are tainted by exploitation, which makes exactly none of this a surprise–We The People aren’t the purpose of the government we’ve formed. There’s this weird cultural mythos of the Self-Made Person, that the purpose of government is to get out of the way of people who will, if they’re the right sort of ambitious, end up Elon Musk wealthy.

All of that’s a lie, of course; that kind of wealth is luck of the draw. (Certainly many billionaires are smart people. You think they’re the smartest people on the planet? Really?) And even if it isn’t–is that really the culture we want to live in? Chuck everyone out of the crib and over a cliff, and whoever doesn’t die on the way down wins? Because that’s what we’ve got. More than that: the survivors set up spikes and roadblocks so nobody behind them can thrive, or even get by. It’s hateful and bleak and nihilistic, which is pretty hypocritical in a country that claims to be some big bucket of religious virtues.

So what do we do?

I can see, sometimes, what our destination needs to be. (This is why I write science fiction.) We need, at a minimum, food and shelter for everyone. We need medical care. We need education–not to produce workers, although it can do that, but because humans like to learn. We like goals, we like novelty, we like new things and exploration and intrigue and purpose. We need creativity and entertainment, because so much of spiritual health and power comes from art, whether that’s a frivolous 17 second Tik Tok or the unearthed beauty of an ancient mosaic. We need to be curious about our differences, rather than fearful; we need to recognize that this life we’re in isn’t isolated, isn’t a one-winner race toward unattainable billions. We need to see that we’re all in service to the ecosystem of the only home we have right now, and we need to work together to look after it.

We need each other. This pandemic, oddly enough, has made that fact screamingly obvious.

There’s too much to do if you take the whole list. (We can’t even get people who work for the community to stop killing members of the community, which should be a pretty fucking basic thing.) I’m trying to start at the beginning, which means voting rights: we’re not a democracy if people have trouble voting.

And there are more of us than there are of them. I still believe that.

I just don’t know anymore if that’s enough.

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