I’m noticing something like a new rhythm as the weeks roll into the first month of COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that about once a week, I run out of courage, and collapse into a puddle of something approaching tears. Today was such a day.
For the most part, I’m upbeat, even philosophic about it all. I grew up amid chaos and have earned my living dancing on the perimeter of disaster. But I knew no better as a child, and simply lived; as an adult, I approached the line always believing I could pull back, just in the nick of time, before disaster claimed me for its own.
I’m older now, perhaps, wiser, but certainly without the optimism of youth. There’s something grim about this COVID-19 shutdown. It feels like the end of so much of what I took for granted. I struggle to view this as more than the beginning of the end.
What did it today?
Something small, really.
I’ve never been one to depend on the government, or so I’ve told myself over and over again. At various times, I’ve flirted with anarchism, libertarianism, hell, I even voted for Donald Trump in 2016. All the while, I’ve taken for granted something like what the seventeenth century political philosophers called the state of nature.
I’ve believed in the power of individuals, that the state is a necessary legal fiction, that there is nothing more fearful than a self-righteous mob. Just beneath the surface of each of these postures was an inchoate confidence in my ability to survive.
No, I did not think I was immortal. But I did not view the world as hostile. Death is part of life; we come, we go, and the interval is what we make it.
Now I wear a mask and gloves on the rare occasions in which I go the office. I worry when I pick up the mail from my mailbox. I wonder as I read the newspaper, in print, whether I’m carrying a lethal pathogen into the house.
All this, and way of life I’ve taken for granted for decades is gone. All at once, I wonder when I will again, if I will again, stand in the well of a courtroom and question a witness. Truth be told, cross-examining people is the thing I like best about my vocation.
I try each day to pry one board from the sinking ship my life has become and to build a new raft. I’ll get there, wherever that is, I tell myself. I’ve done it before. I think of Odysseus, the man of many wiles, on his infinite sojourn.
And I recall all at once how many times Homer portrayed Odysseus weeping over the seeming hopelessness and difficulty of it all. Somedays were simply overwhelming to the hero; some days, roughly once a week, and in the middle of what was once the work week, I stumble and fall.
Today was a stumbling sort of day. I admit it.
What if I was wrong in the assumptions I brought to my everyday work? What if there is no state of nature? What if individualism is less the starting point of any political philosophy, but rather the luxury affluence affords? When nature turns hostile, perhaps the state is less enemy than lifeline.
I filled out my application for a stimulus check so as to keep my employees fed.
I hated myself for asking for help.
And then I picked up a volume of essays devoted to a critical reappraisal of political philosopher C.B. Macpherson’s work on possessive individualism. This pandemic has me ground to a standstill, re-examining, reckoning with, if you will, old commitments, and reassessing assumptions that served for lifetime.
It was an unsettling day, I tell you. Beware Wednesday. I suspect there will be many more such days to come.