On a typical Sunday morning, I start my day with a hot pour-over coffee and a crossword puzzle, which I tear out the back of The Week, a political rag I never subject myself to that still comes to my house (though I do find their satirical artwork of current events amusing), and any of the following activities: walking my dog, riding my bike, sucking down a mezcal margarita, painting a mess, maybe smoking a fatty (not a vape pen, an old-fashioned grass-rolled doobie), going for a drive or cooking meals with friends. But today, a day designed for both my computer and myself to recharge for the ensuing week, I, like many of you, cannot relax, focus or pretend to enjoy myself (let alone tend to any of my regularly-scheduled outdoor programs) when I know what looms outside my home. You see, I don’t just worry about the threat of sickness; I see a battle of the soul outside my window.
For the past two years, I’ve lived in a corner house on a semi-busy residential hot spot of Santa Monica, my writing nook in the corner of the house facing out towards the busy intersection, the two corner windows allowing me to sit back in my chair and watch all walks and wheels of life pass by. Normally, I’ll see parents walking their children (and carrying the scooter they decided to forego) to and from school (a public one that actually promotes diversity), neighbors’ dogs walking their owners and assholes on ride-share bikes and scooters swerving the street to a place where they can litter property that isn’t theirs. But lately, as expected, that crowd has changed.
I still see the occasional dog walker or cyclist, but the majority of the time, I see people running (for their lives, more or less). Everybody running. People who clearly haven’t done it in quite some time and many who shouldn’t be allowed to, the way they flail their arms and legs like some kind of drunken Frankenstein made in the back of a Cheesecake Factory. But what I see most is fear, and not just fear of contracting this pernicious coronavirus as it spreads through Los Angeles and the rest of the world, but fear of each other. As though we’re enemies as opposed to allies.
While I do believe wholly that this will not end until we lock it all down (that means you, too, Florida), take responsibility and own our place in this world, I also believe this will not end until we properly hit reset on the ways we live our lives. This is not a drill or a political statement (we lost that right with the abolishment of a pandemic task force), this is an all-partisan wake-up call, nay fog horn, that we as a human race have gone so far off the track that we need a drastic kick in the crotch to get steer us back to civility.
I’m not a fatalist, nor am I in denial. I’m a hard-working, nature-loving man of 35 years, and like many of you, I remember not that long ago when it was socially acceptable to knock on your neighbor’s unannounced to ask a question, drop off sugar-based goods or, heaven forbid, borrow something with intent to return it in one piece. But now when I hear a knock on the door, my guard dog springs to her post while I assemble a second line of defense behind her, acutely aware of where all the sharp objects in the house are positioned. Maybe that’s city life speaking, but it feels more universal than ever.
There’s not much use in pointing blame on any one thing or person (though I could definitely name a few with a gun to my head), but in having a moment to reflect, I believe since my introduction to smart technology, there has been a thick wall put up between myself and my neighbors. With enough walls built up between neighbors, we’ve constructed these massive concrete cities that isolate and divide us, not only from ourselves and nature but from the very essence of being human. This is not to say we shouldn’t enjoy the fruits of our progress, but everything in moderation, even moderation.
While I can appreciate what it means to “make America great again,” I mostly see a clever device that actually divides, both America from the world and one American from another. What we need to do is move forward, not backwards, but hold close what once made us great (unless it’s racist, sexist or close-minded). And to be happy. Do you remember that feeling, being happy? Like truly happy, the kind of happy where you’re borderline giddy and too embarrassed to show it, where you have no anxieties about where you need to be in an hour, where life flows through and around you, completely at peace with who you are and the things you have and the people who are in it. Maybe you’re too busy trying to be a big, tough man every waking minute. Or maybe you’re one too busy trying to find some shred of equality in the world. Or maybe you’re just too busy altogether, exhausted by the end, ready for some quick Netflix before passing out and starting all over. No matter the cause, good or bad, it distracts us from one another.
When I look out and see people in fear of one another, viewing each other as a threat or as “the enemy,” all I see is another lesson unlearned. What we are taking away from this so far is not what’s intended. But until we learn the right lesson, we’ll continue to stay grounded in our homes until we’re told we can come out. And those of us who sneak out and break the rules are only going to make this worse for the rest of us.
It might be high time we all grew up and acted like adults, but maybe acting like adults is what got us here in the first place. What happened to the child inside? The one who lived in the moment and played with everyone they ever met. The one who didn’t hoard toys and selfishly hide them in safe places for a rainy day. The one who only saw color when it came to finger-paints and coloring books.
Instead of every man and woman for themselves, taking more toilet paper than you could possibly shove up your ass in a lifetime, why not share a little in the process of taking care of yourself? Why not let the restaurants, mail-people, garbage truck drivers, teachers, house cleaners and bartenders you rely on every week rely on you for once?
What is it that makes one person more of a priority than another? Because I promise you, no matter who you are, what color your skin, where you’re from or how much money, at some point in your life you knew what it felt like to be the little guy (or gal), stepped on and wishing for a break. Maybe you overcame with a bit of hard work, but nobody ever gets to where they are without sacrifice, a bit of luck and a shitload of help from others.
Sacrificing a little now might make a huge difference to someone in need and barely any difference to yourself. Think of that when you nuzzle a can of chickpeas between your thighs as we ration our way through this mess.
Now is the perfect time to help people more than six feet from you, be it the delivery driver who risks personal health to bring you a self-quaratined Taco Tuesday or the barista who took your ridiculous lavender oat milk cappuccino order every weekday last year. Now is the perfect time to call your friend you’ve become distant with and listen (Google it, if you need help) to what’s going on with them and their families. Now is the perfect time to do things you love to do because you love to do them, not for recognition or money. Now is the perfect time to say all the things we never say, show compassion for all the people we have hurt, give undivided attention to the people, organizations and thoughts that deserve it and to the people who think we have forgotten them, no matter how close or far from home. Or even just awkwardly waving to somebody a block away. Just let people know you see them, and maybe (just maybe), when we all climb out of this hole, we can do it together, stronger than ever.
When this thing is finally finished, and once we have brought ourselves back to the center again, we can move and groove in harmony together, and we can do so closer than ever before. Catching fire flies, singing around the bonfire, dancing the night away under clearer skies, clinging our beer bottles, “belonging somewhere you feel free,” as the great, late Tom Petty once said.
Because it’s not going to end if we go this alone, and it will continue to hurt the harder we try, until we finally find the empathy to let others go before us, to walk with gratitude for what we have and not take more than we deserve, to treat each other with the kindness and sensitivity that we want for our children, our mothers and fathers, our closest friends, our brothers and sisters, our partners and ourselves, and for once in our filthy lives, we learn to wash our goddamn hands.
When we look back on this, it should not be as a breaking point, but rather a turning point. This thing might feel bent out of shape, but it’s not broken, and we have this time to work towards fixing it. To not use such an opportunity would be a great waste, as it’s unlike any chance we’ve ever been given. A universal do-over. Things are only going to get tougher in the coming weeks, and how we react will determine which direction we will head.
So stop binging TV all day and slowing down the Internet (we need it to communicate important things). Use this time. I’ll say that again. Use this time.
Yesterday, I heard something so simple and so genuinely expressed that I hadn’t really heard it in the longest time, and it struck me as an almost ancient saying that we have let go unappreciated: It’s so good to see you!
If you’re looking for a good way to help, any of these organizations below would gladly accept anything you have to offer.
Help Prevent the Spread of the Coronavirus
For your consideration: 20 Hilarious Hoarder Tweets in a Time of Quarantine
Coronavirus relief organizations
No Kid Hungry
National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA)
Meals on Wheels