Slippery Slopes

One of my favorite lessons my mom taught me back when I was at the age where I was routinely fighting, week after week, to be in the cool kids club and not the outcast club (and it certainly did change from week to week back then!) was one particular day when my mom asked if I wanted to go shopping with her at Kmart.

I was so excited! One of my favorite things to do at Kmart used to be to go through all the albums in the record section (am I dating myself yet?) The record section was next to the TVs, which usually had on some kind of sports. Next to that was the snack bar, which always smelled exactly the same. Fresh popcorn, stale coffee, and some kind of burnt sugar something or other. I loved the ICEE machine, even though we never got to have those. Anyway, I loved to go to Kmart. Or just about any other place that my mom or dad would take us shopping. It’s not like I always got stuff, in fact just the opposite. But it was a treat to wander around, flip through the album covers, look at the cheap sparkly jewelry, board games and toys, or new plants or whatever else might be waiting on an endcap, perfectly placed to catch my eye.

But all of a sudden on this particular day, I stopped myself. “Kmart? I don’t want to go to Kmart.”

This must have really puzzled my mom, because I always wanted to go to Kmart. So she asked me, “why in heavenly days would you not want to go to Kmart?”

This day, the mean girls won for just a bit and I said “What if I saw someone from school there? I can’t let anyone know we shop at ((shudder)) Kmart!

What a dopey brat I must have sounded like. It’s kind of embarrassing to even type the words. Fortunately, my mom didn’t (and still doesn’t) suffer fools too gladly.

“Did it ever occur to you,” she said in a perfectly reasonable tone, “that if the only way anyone is ever going to see you at Kmart IS IF THEY ARE IN KMART, TOO??? HMMMMMMMM?” Yes, at the end of the sentence, she sounded just like that. Just like the Church Lady.

Well, and…she was right. It taught me a powerful lesson about judging people and finger pointing and shaming and all the rest. I didn’t understand that then, I was just relieved that I could actually go into Kmart and not feel like I had to keep looking over my shoulder! But I’ve thought of that day many times over the years. I find myself thinking of it more and more now, in these “Days of Corona.” (I don’t know what to call it, and “times like these” or “during this crazy time” are getting overdone. But what isn’t??? I digress…)

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Like we observe during and after any kind of catastrophe or crisis, whether it’s a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey or an attack like 9/11 or this crazy pandemic, times of disarray and fear bring out the very best and the very worst in people.

We’re watching corporations step up and move manufacturing capacity to much needed supplies and equipment. We are watching young kids stay put and forego the normal springtime competitions, sports, and celebrations so that they don’t put their grandparents and others at risk. We are watching the absolute heroics of healthcare workers and truck drivers and grocery store employees as they respond to overwhelming demands on our healthcare and supply chain systems. The list grows day by day and even hour by hour of people and businesses stepping up to support each other in this great time of national (and global) need.

And then…well, then you have the things that make me shake my head. With all this time at home on our hands, it seems there are a whole lot of folks who think they’ve been deputized to help right the most egregious neighborhood wrongs. Out of state plates? For SHAME. Too many family members in one house? MY GOD. HOW IRRESPONSIBLE. People who aren’t family members seen with each other? HOW DARE THEY. Everyone standing 6 feet apart from each other in line to go in the store, secretly assessing their fellow shoppers: “Hmm, I wonder what it is THEY need so badly?” “I wonder if they really need that toilet paper or are they HOARDING it?”

I have a lot of fears about this crisis, most of which I can do nothing about except just keep my head down, wash my hands, disinfect everything, do my job and try to keep myself and my husband healthy and safe. Do I worry about the economy? Of course I do. You can actually do both: you can be concerned about the general public and also concerned that millions of us are going to lose our jobs as a result of these precautions. The one fear I have though, is that we don’t actually get past this feeling of “otherness.”

Don’t touch. Don’t hug. Don’t get near me. You might infect me. I might infect you. THEY might infect US. People from THAT place might infect THIS place. I actually saw a post last night on Nextdoor where someone announced that our county now has two cases of “positive for Corona.” Instantly the responses came, in all caps. “WHO HAS IT? WHERE ARE THEY? WHERE HAVE THEY BEEN?” “I KNEW IT. I’LL BET THEY ARE FROM HOUSTON.” Good grief. Are we going to form a community pitchfork brigade in front of their house (standing six feet apart, of course) or are we going to actually, you know, offer our help and ask if we can do anything for them?

Is it possible that we could all take a pause from our newly found powers as “fellow man police?” Has it occurred to you that there might be more cars in a driveway because a friend or family member suffers from depression, reached out and said “I can’t be alone right now,” and some person in their life had compassion and said “screw it” to themselves and invited them to “come and stay with us.” If your dearest friend called you right now, inconsolable because they’d just found their child’s lifeless body hanging from a shower rod, would you say “gee, I’d really love to come help you but this whole isolation thing…good luck. ” I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I would want offer whatever comfort I possibly could with my physical presence. Maybe that’s the reason for those “strange” cars in the driveway. Same with out of state plates. Do you really know why they are here? Does it matter? They are here. What is going to change? What does it matter to you? Do you really want to turn them (and their nasty-despicable-unproven-but-definitely-potential-and-I-am pretty-sure-they’ve-been-careless-and-exposed-contagion) back around and send them further on their way where they could maybe potentially infect others, but at least they won’t be around YOU?

The legendary former Texas football coach, Darrell Royal, used to have a saying. “Don’t let the same team beat you twice.” This virus is a punk-ass chump of a son of a gun, that is putting it as nicely as I can. It’s bad. But if we allow the fear, anxiety and panic associated with it to destroy our communities, our social lives, our friendships or our sense of compassion and grace…well, then I’m not sure I’m all that excited about what the other side of these “Days of Corona” might bring.

We never know what another person is facing, we never know the fears or anxieties that our neighbors may be facing. I realize times are frightening and we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones first and foremost. But wouldn’t it be great if we could please just focus on our own “stuff” and not everyone else’s? There are plenty of things to concern ourselves with right now, starting with ourselves.

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