It is like the script in a terrifying blockbuster horror series:
1,000 people a day are dying from a contagious disease carried by infected human beings, who the healthy people try desperately to keep their distance from, lest they too become infected. They barricade themselves in their homes as much as possible, and when they do have to travel, they do so ever vigilantly—always trying to avoid contact with those who will pass the sickness onto them. But the zombies are plentiful and prolific and relentless in their pursuit. They amass quickly, and in with blinding speed they overwhelm and devour up the healthy people until they too become ill—and the sickness spreads exponentially.
Unfortunately, it isn’t a fictional narrative relegated to graphic novels and cable television—it is the nightmare stuff of our waking days here in America: watching the death toll rise stratospherically and being terrified of those around us who refuse to respect science and insist on rejecting data and continue to ignore restrictions and stay determined not to social distance: the walking dumb.
Though 1,000 people died in America yesterday and we stopped 215,000 diagnoses, many Florida beaches were still bursting beyond capacity, New York City parks were still packed to overflowing with cross-training classes and pickup basketball games, and here in our North Carolina suburb, people continue to act like it’s Spring Break in Margaritaville: having cookouts and playing corn hole and giving out hugs and high fives with impunity.
It is a sign of a collective sickness greater than this virus: willful ignorance.
For some the reckless defiance to stay at home orders is a political statement. They simply cannot acknowledge how dire the situation is, because to do so would mean finally having to admit that this was never a “Democratic hoax,” as their beloved president had said—and so in a partisan, Fox News-induced stupor, they play golf and hang out with friends and share food to Make America Great own the Libs.
Some are choosing to make a showy religious declaration; calling upon God to deliver them as though from the encroaching Egyptians at the water’s edge—not bothering to consider that God could have given them doctors and scientists and trained experts, who are telling them that the greatest exodus from harm and captivity, is to simply stay home.
Others are a victim of their own nationalistic fervor and Don’t Tread on Me mythology. Their desire for personal freedom at any cost is making them defiant in their unconscientious objection. They are more interested in not feeling restricted—than they are making a small, temporary personal sacrifice for the greater good. They would rather be “free” than responsible with people around them.
Some are afflicted with garden variety selfishness. They simply don’t care, because they feel themselves immune and invincible, and so they give no thought to people for whom a diagnosis would most likely be a death sentence: the immunocompromised or the elderly or those with lung ailments. They don’t consider the strain on the already taxed healthcare system or the cost to businesses that are more likely not to survive with each passing day or the schools that can’t open and the millions of students whose educations are being further detoured the longer this goes on. They don’t stop to reckon with the ripples of their actions and so they shop and workout and don’t wash their hands, because they see no reason not to.
And so as terrifying as these days already are, it’s a compounding terror to have to worry about the people around you: to watch their recklessness and their disregard for other human beings, to fear your neighbors and friends because they could be perpetuating this disaster through whatever toxic cocktail of partisan politics, bad theology, selfishness, and lack of information isn’t allowing them to see the gravity of the moment.
In the past, Americans were asked to fight and die on foreign soil in order to save other American lives—and they did. Today, we’re asked to simply stay home to accomplish the same noble task and many can’t manage that. Maybe that it is where our loss of greatness truly resides.
It’s an indictment of the times and of the people we have become, to the sense of interdependence that we’ve lost; losing the belief that we are our brother’s keeper and that we are our best when we love our neighbor as ourselves.
I don’t want to be afraid the people I share this world with. That’s a pretty lousy way to go through life. I just wish more of them saw beyond themselves and considered the way their lives rub up against other people’s, especially when life and death literally reside in their choices.
I wish they would stop helping this virus and start helping one another. I wish they would stay home and end this nightmare. That would be a story worth living in.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com