As I write, I notice how difficult it is to get back the drive for recording my thoughts. I have been secreting them away. Hidden, perhaps I can forget them. I feel like I’m writing someone else’s words. There’s an element of constant disassociation present. The subject matter that I wish to explore here is not exactly pleasant, and for that I apologize. These pages are not just for you, they’re also self serving, a kind of literary self therapy. I am not a writer, but I do love words. They have the power to clarify, purify and heal.
The current events that we are bombarded with these days often feel unreal. So, with a purging of words, and ideas, detailing how I comprehend events, I manage to push back against the chaos and uncertainty, and gain some relief from a tragedy that has no end in sight.
But, I know that I am not alone. America and the world is collectively experiencing this trauma.
I attribute these feelings to my own psyche attempting to protect itself. I have a history of anxiety, depression and PTSD. I experience work related stress due to the nature of my job, as a Firefighter and Paramedic. That stress has only increased since the arrival of COVID-19 and bearing witness to it’s deadly effects. I fear infection and fear transmission to my family. I fear the anxiety that comes with unstable patients that do not improve with traditional respiratory treatments.
But, I don’t quit. Garbed in a ridiculously oversized jumpsuit, with gloves, mask and goggles, I treat my patients and do my best to comfort and ease them.
I find myself more frequently these days envisioning myself dying alone in a hospital. Leaving my family behind as tens of thousands already have. I worry about the emotional damage to my children, the loss my wife would feel, and the financial hardship my family would go through. I wonder if my life insurance, death and disability and pension funds would be enough to keep my family stable and at the same standard of living. After multiple infection scares, I’ve relapsed to self medicating, then relapsed to sobriety. If there’s a better reason to drink than a pandemic, I can’t think of it.
I like to pretend that I don’t fear death, but I do. I have seen enough of it in the last 10 years, and I want to live.
But, again, I know that I am not alone. These concerns are shared by the majority of healthcare workers these days, and is not limited to them. America is afraid. The world is afraid. The trauma is collective, spanning all nations, ages, races, and sexes.
But while the experience is shared, there are missing elements. Concepts that could help to navigate and ease the pain of our struggles appear missing. There is no visible pox mark to avoid in this new world. Everyone is infected yet no one is infected. Survival is reliant upon isolation. As a result, we are stripped of solidarity, and community. While those with families can support each other emotionally, they still experience the alien, overwhelming fear from the chaos, isolation and loss of control.
Children yearning for playmates. Mother’s wishing they could embrace their grown children. Wives trying to remember the last time they said “I love you” as they watch their husbands die miles away as the ventilator is turned off. And for those who are navigating this pandemic alone? There is an unbearable, agonizing sense of loss, disconnection and having been forgotten.
I wish I could say that my greatest and only fear is the Coronavirus. But it isn’t. While the plague of COVID-19 indiscriminately passes from person to person, town to town and state to state, another, more virulent disease has been festering in our country far longer.
Like a cancer, unless authoritarianism is fought in it’s initial stages, it quickly overwhelms democracies like a tumor metastasizing. We beat it into remission 74 years ago. We then nursed our wounds, celebrated our triumphs, started rebuilding the world and told ourselves, promised ourselves, never, ever again.
Years passed and some details faded, but our nation’s and allies’ pride from that victory held strong. It knit us together, those tales of good defeating evil being passed down generations. We revered those veterans. I remember my sense of awe for my grandfather, the kindest man I have ever known, who witnessed the unspeakable during the Battle of the Bulge. A medic like me, he spoke nothing of his experiences.
But, he didn’t need to. Countless films and books recounted their heroism. Documentaries revealed the true costs of battling fascism. Our cultural identity forever linked with just military supremacy. We strode tall as righteous defenders of the weak, the yankee bearers of democracy. World War II defined a generation. And we remember those men with almost mythological status. The now dwindling Greatest Generation.
Nevertheless, our old enemy laid in wait. Because it’s nature depended upon complacency, it bided it’s time as we grew comfortable. Watching war and strife and revolution take nations frequently, we deployed our armies abroad to police the world. But our blood sacrifices were not shared as in the draft wars, they were limited to select volunteers and their kin. Respect of, and reverence for that sacrifice, shrank with each unjust military intervention. We grew jaded of the horrors we inflicted on fellow human beings tens of thousands of miles away.
We worked tirelessly to convince ourselves that the recipients of our munitions were not like us, hated us, and our actions had made the world safer.
We learned and repeated a deadly mantra. “It could never happen here”
Soon this proved to be self-deception. It arrived, took root, and it continues to grow every day.
Years of complacency saw the birth and rise of propaganda masquerading as news. We saw the steady, gradual pull to the right of our political spectrum no better than one trying to watch a tree grow.
Nonetheless, we unwittingly witnessed the maturation of our corporocratic capitalist state. It was easy to miss, as we were kept very busy simply trying to survive the widening gap of inequality. Our values became more and more skewed. The birth of political corporate oligarchs, monstrous hybrids of government and business, soon transformed our political landscape.
Disguised like you and I, festooned in faux patriotism, they sought to get our precious vote. And succeeded for decades. Through their thievery, lies, lobbies and subterfuge, they looked down from on high at the results of their work.
A republic filled with grievances, inequality and divides, pitting the white majority against non-white minorities. The middle class against the poor. These machinations created a perfect, fertile bed for authoritarianism.
We have witnessed the hypocrisy of the evangelical right, the complicity of the neoliberal left, and the searing anger, acceptance and promotion of overt racism, nationalism, classism, and sexism. We reaped the societal and electoral fruits of militarism being prized over education and healthcare.
We felt the ever present growth of hatred focused on the differences of the “other”. The different skin. The different language. The different religion. The different political party. An easy component of man’s flaws to exploit. In hindsight, all appears as a predictable, linear progression, one we have seen before, elsewhere, years ago, yet still is no less shocking.
Many will await November 3 not like children at Christmas, but like battered kids awaiting someone, anyone, to rescue them. They fear the future and wish for the past. They cower in homes, jobless, hungry and hopeless. If they were privileged enough they remained employed, and work from home. Many more however, work risking their health, with no additional compensation. Wage slaves to keep supply chains intact, people fed, and retail stores open.
These people, disproportionately minorities, make up a majority of our ever increasing death toll.
Our incompetent federal government, the nexus of all our ills, throws pocket change in their faces while arguing whether or not they need unemployment benefits. Millions await eviction notifications, tortured with the thoughts of how their families will make it through this national crisis. And through all of this, an autocrat gestates, and the shadow of fascism grows, consuming checks and balances, civil liberties, justice and the recognition of reality itself.
Though these times are grim, there are pockets of hope glinting within the darkness. Racial justice, long ignored, now rears up and demands to be heard. The life of one man is taken, and a mass movement is amplified into a multicultural wave of humanity, ever growing, spitting in the face of the oppressor. The lights turned brighter on economic inequality. Though secret police roam our cities’ streets, suppressing dissent with extrajudicial powers, we continue to defy them. The world watches, and stands with us in solidarity.
Similar events take place in far off lands. We view the television with bated breath while hundreds of thousands march across the world. Gargantuan crowds reject the election results in Minsk, Belarus. We watch, with empathy, and hope that the people can wrest control from a would be dictator. A sister nation, where perhaps the fall of an autocrat would reverberate across the seas to our troubled country. A resounding echo, a warning to our leaders that death lies ahead when freedom is ripped from the masses.
For us watching, the parallels between us are all too clear.
These uprisings give me hope. Minneapolis. Atlanta. New York City. Portland. Minsk, Belarus and beyond. Average people united in a singular quest for justice. Mothers, fathers, friends, and strangers join together to protect each other and become more powerful in their union than they were apart. Heroes. Revolutionaries. They give me the strength to continue to push forward against what is unthinkable.
I can see the unthinkable on the horizon, and it creeps closer every day. It was heralded by years of complacency, callousness, greed, stupidity, and bigotry. I know what happens when it’s allowed to mature. It kills. It kills physically, emotionally and spiritually. And I won’t live that way. Neither will my wife and three sons. And neither should you. I hope that every day, more can collectively see what looms ahead. That more decide to take a risk and stand and join others, rather than lie down in fear. That we are able to rise up, unite and snuff out the flame before it grows into a conflagration. Our window is closing, and the night may be far longer and colder than we ever imagined.