“Any idiot can survive a crisis,” Anton Chekhov once wrote, “It’s this day-to-day living that grinds you down.”
OK, Chekhov didn’t actually write that — at least not anywhere anyone could find it. Witty, anonymous thoughts are sometimes paired with him, or Hemingway, or Kurt Vonnegut, to give them a little extra pop.
Though the non-Chekhovian observation is popping aplenty right now, with an additional twist as we try to survive day-to-day living in a crisis. The worst of both worlds. Of many worlds, all burning. Since it can be easy to lose track — it’s Monday, right? — let’s review.
Mid-July in the Plague Year of 2020. Four months since what I consider the last normal thing, the March Northbrook Chamber of Commerce meeting. The benchmark before life got strange. Take a look at the picture. Crowded, huh? Shoulder to shoulder. Did you ever think you’d miss crowds? Not me.
More than 135,000 Americans dead. Six hundred Americans die of COVID-19 every day. No end in sight. Economic collapse. Thirty million unemployed. Complete paralysis of the federal government, frozen, punctuated by the continually yapping sound of our imbecile president.
Plus, his clueless fans demanding to die. Plus, nationwide civic unrest over racist police brutality followed by ... well, where are we now, exactly? Some Great Awakening to the racial disparities of our country? Pretty to think so — that is Hemingway. Although to me, it seems the only people really confronting the situation are those who already know.
But the rest? The ones who most need to get a clue are instead staring, in a convincing approximation of outrage, at some statue of Ulysses S. Grant toppled two weeks ago. Feeling sad and small at even the prospect that something might change someday.
Dry your eyes. It’s never that easy. Ad hoc scrubbing of racist celebrations is great. But that’s just a start, right? It isn’t as if losing Stonewall Jackson will fix education, or housing, or jobs, or the skewed criminal justice system, or lack of capital. Is it even a start?
Clearing the deck for action? Could be. Could also be the ritual picking of low hanging fruit. Don’t deliver the eulogy for entrenched systemic racism quite yet, given that it has rolled along until ... what day is again?
Being aware is great — I certainly noticed that the photo above is a roomful of white folks. But so what? We were born that way, too. Where do we go from here? What’s the next step? Reparations?
Given the federal government can’t get more help to tens of millions of Americans whose unemployment benefits will run out momentarily, but instead is trying to pry away their health care during a pandemic, and given that our president is a broken toy who makes everything worse, the odds of the damage of slavery being repaired ... let’s just say, this doesn’t seem the ideal moment for that to happen.
Of course it never is.
I actually left out some bad things, for brevity: The still weird daily ritual of masks, plastic shields, warning signs, shuttered businesses. No plays or concerts. No vacations. My wife would drink lye before she’d step into an airport. Sports on mute. And you know they’re missed when I’m missing them. I swear, at this point, I would go to a Sox game. Not really. But almost.
And the strange thing is, when my wife and I assess the situation, we feel ... wait for it ... blessed. Lucky. Fortunate, so far. Not sick, jobs intact, boys still rocking law school. But given how uncomfortable being blessed feels right now, as day after day after day after day after day piles on, I can’t imagine how lousy not being blessed feels. Honestly, I can’t. Just a dull blank. Sorry.
What I can do is paltry, but it’s the best I’ve got. That is, to tell you what I tell myself ever day, every single frickin’ carbon copy of the day before and the day after day: Hang in there. Hold on. Chin up. One foot in front of the other. Better days ahead. Or so I hope.
That’s it. Lame, I know. Maybe it needs the gloss of quotation. Let’s try this: In the words of the immortal Dr. Johnson — and he did say this — “I will be conquered. I will not capitulate.” That sounds like a plan.