Thoughts on the Pandemic

Some meandering and possibly disconnected observations from the last two months or so, all of which are, of course, my opinion and not objective fact. None of us have all the answers, or even all the right questions. It’s impossible to see the whole picture when we’re in the middle of it. Rebecca Solnit says that the future is dark and no one can see farther than their candle, and I think that’s true. It’s very important, I believe, that in this crisis we refrain from blowing out our candles and stumbling around in the dark, or blindly following someone who claims that their candle is the only real light. 

We’re far enough into this now to allow for old habits to be set aside and new habits learned. As restrictions ease, I wonder how many old habits will be set aside for good and new ones put in their place. Without a replacement habit, the old ones will almost certainly resurface.

Many people are both able and willing to do the right thing even if it’s somewhat (or more than somewhat) inconvenient. To be reminded of this, it’s necessary to step away from the media, which spends much of its time giving the rest their fifteen minutes.

The economic system under which we live is in some respects a house of cards. A system built on the necessity of continual growth is apparently unable to respond effectively to a crisis when the solution is to stop, take a step back, and wait for the danger to pass.

Millions of people all across the country have suddenly become aware of how dependent we are on those who are at the bottom of the ladder as far as income and prestige are concerned. We have always needed them, and now that has been brought into sharp focus. We are an interdependent web indeed, and right now we are being forcefully reminded of that.

I have a feeling that we’re starting to move toward a grasp of the characteristics of this virus and a way to deal with its more damaging effects, but it certainly has been a stumbling path forward.

For some reason, I am reminded of one of the basic rules for dealing with students’ stubborn behavior. I remember telling myself, “You just have to hold out a few seconds longer than they do. Just a few seconds.”

It’s usually easy to tell when a scientist is talking; they are careful in their statements and are generally unwilling to offer conclusions that cannot be supported. Statements by those who do not demonstrate the same restraint should be taken with a grain of salt, especially if the subject is scientific in nature.

The Dunning-Kreuger Effect is real.

The characterization of this as a war is inaccurate. The virus is not our enemy. It has no intent to do us harm; it has no intent at all beyond mindless replication. It has no organization, no homeland, no plan of attack, no ideology that stands in opposition to our own. It does not form alliances or target specific countries or groups of people. This is a medical emergency, not a war.

Asking a politician to refrain from politicizing an event or situation is like asking a weather forcaster to ignore the jet stream or a business owner to ignore profit and loss information. It’s not going to work. 

Like the attack on September 11, this medical crisis has presented the world with a rare opportunity to set aside questions of boundaries, sovereignty, and political ideology and come together in common purpose. And, like in the weeks immediately following the September attack, many government leaders have turned down this chance in favor of seizing the opportunity to assign blame and consolidate power.

Small and flexible is often more effective and successful than big and powerful.

Planning things out ahead of time never works for me as a writer, and I find that I’m not much better at it in other areas of my life. It’s a learning process, and probably good for me to develop this skill.

The desperate plight of those among us who are dependent on a paycheck to stay alive and sheltered but who have no paycheck and no way to get one is frightening, not least because the number of people affected is so large.

The British admonition to “Keep Calm and Carry On” is evidently more difficult to pull off than it sounds.

I’ve discovered that while I still love my wife of almost 40 years, I also like hanging out with her for days on end, a discovery of no small importance during this pandemic. Also, it is my great good fortune that she continues to tolerate my odd take on life in general and many things in particular. It makes this whole thing so much easier to bear.

It’s important to be smart about this, and at least as important to be kind and generous. Recognizing that we (meaning the entire human race) are all in this together can help us reach past differences to common ground, and in that direction lies healing for many of our ills.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Pandemic

  1. Jim, this is one of the most sensible, thoughtful takes on life during and beyond the pandemic I’ve read. Your analogy of the candle in the dark is spot on and a wonderful reminder to those of us that need reminding. To hear someone so like-minded is like finding water in the desert. I wish this would go viral. I feel like your words should be heard by more than just a few. Would you consider running for president? No? How about governor of Tennessee? Thank you for your honest and empathetic thoughts.


    1. Thanks, Lin. I don’t think you can share from my website, but if you’re a Facebook person my posts automatically copy to my writers page – jimhartsellwriter – so you could share it from there. As far as political office is concerned, I have far too many skeletons in my closet, my living room, my kitchen, and my back yard to even consider a run even if I wanted to. My thinking is that would be hell on earth, both running and occupying the office. So thanks but no thanks on that one. Hope you and yours are coping with this long strange trip we’re on.


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