I’m not liking to write this for fear it will cause embarrassment. But then, wise teachers would point out that is exactly the reason I must proceed.
I fear that this piece will be seen as dripping with self-pity or weakness. I can handle the weakness reaction given that I moved past that phase of male insecurity ages ago. Rather, it’s the self-pity tone that might be inferred. I despise self-pity along with its psychological cousins, victimization and grievance. For me, they serve as barometers and indicators of weakness in character.
Still, I would be dishonest if I insist that I am not fighting a case of self-pity. One solace is that I am fighting it, not wallowing in it. Another is that I am far from alone in feeling and fighting it, and that is the reason I peck forward on the keyboard.
Covid-19 is not the only viral infection affecting us. Societal ugliness is ravaging our body politic. Concurrently, while the Covid-19 virus is causing great physical and economic pain, distress, and death, it is also acerbating that viral ugliness.
I awakened this morning with the strains of Billy Joel’s song, “Piano Man,” running through my head. Talk about a downer. One gut puncher in the lyrics for me is “They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it’s better than drinkin’ alone.” From this time perspective, the patrons of that bar probably don’t realize how lucky they are to be sharing a drink as opposed to be drinking at home alone. I know I hadn’t, but I do now.
Another song rambling through my head of late is “Lonely People.” Its opening lines: “This is for all the lonely people / Thinking that life has passed them by.” The second line could be aptly rephrased to fit our time to “Seeing how life is passing them by.” For it is. It is ironic that the 1970s group who made the song into a hit is America. Ponder that for a bit.
I admit to feeling lonely. Over the summer, my social life blossomed to include my health providers as I had three sundry procedures taken care of. It feels good to have them done, but there’s a bittersweetness to it as those trips gave me opportunity to chat it up in person with interesting people from my doctors to their assistants and receptionists. Now, my social life is back to weekly grocery shopping trips.
Another bittersweetness is the consolation knowing that I am not alone. Far from it. Countless others are feeling it. Relative to them, I know too that my situation is far more tolerable. While relative, it is, nevertheless, brutal. Tragically, for some it has been and will be fatal.
It was for a very close personal friend. It was more than he could bear. The isolation and loss of his dream job proved to be the straws that broke his back. He committed suicide. I think of him daily as I work through my grief. I try to imagine the depths of his despair towards the end. As I do, I wonder too how many others have likewise taken their lives and what it is like for those they left behind.
In Walden, Thoreau writes, “What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.”
I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to not touching base with others. When this pandemic hit in the spring, I wrote this blog regularly. I made phone calls, texted, and sent emails to check in on those I love, especially those who might be in vulnerable situations. I no longer do. That energy has been enervated. The viruses have taken their toll, and there remains a long way to go before we “round the corner” on both.
Scientists will likely develop a vaccine for Covid-19. But no vaccine can be created for what ails the heart and mind. Only honest recognition and human interaction can.
In The Plague by Albert Camus, Dr. Rieux avers to the journalist Rambert that “Man isn’t an idea.”
Rambert fires back. “Man is an idea and a precious small idea, once he turns his back on love. And that’s my point; we – mankind – have lost the capacity for love. We must face that fact, doctor. Let’s wait to acquire that capacity or, if really it’s beyond us, wait for the deliverance that will come to each of us anyway, without his playing the hero. Personally, I look no further.”
Dr. Rieux concedes the point, but he holds that there is something vital to keep in mind.
“There’s no question of heroism in all this,” he says. “It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means to fighting a plague is – common decency.”
At the end of the song, the patrons, as they “put bread” in his jar, say ironically to Piano Man, “Man, what are you doing here?” I suppose they were too numb to figure that out.
This is Election Day. The results TBD. Regardless of the outcome, we face a most challenging time and course. Many are worn down, but fatigue cannot be a reason not to meet challenges lying ahead.
But then, when one thinks of it, it need not be all that daunting. All it would take is for each to approach those challenges, both private and public, with the common decency the good doctor prescribes.