I most definitely have Covid-on-the-brain. While I might not have the virus – yet – everything is muddled. With so much of my stuff cancelled, having all of this time, you’d think I’d be taking care of tasks I can’t generally get to. Alas, not so much. When everything was upended, so was I.
And I’m one of the lucky ones. I can work from home. And as long as I stay home, I’m relatively safe. But so many people cannot work from home, and are not safe. People like bus drivers, sanitation workers, subway operators, grocery store clerks, fast food workers, people who staff megastores like Walmart and Target. Then there’s the health care workers – nurses, EMT’s, hospital cleaning crews, doctors, janitors, home health aides. All the folks that without whom I would most definitely not be safe.
There are those who would like to work, but cannot. Their places of work, not being considered essential services, are closed. I read about one woman who called the Unemployment Office 2000 times and still couldn’t get through. So many people are facing not only rent but other bills they just can’t pay. There are just too many people who are unaware how many of our fellow citizens live paycheck to paycheck. Missing even one paycheck is an invitation to disaster.
And there are still egoistic voices out there who would deny the humanity of so many who are suffering. Voices which actually compare “the economy” with human life and human welfare, and then proceed to value the former over the latter. And what is the economy anyway? The GNP? The Dow? How is there economy in the fulltime employee who cannot afford an apartment, and who has neither sick days nor health care? What about the children?
Alas there is nothing new about attitudes like this. There’s nothing new about corporate and public policies which perpetuate scandalous inequality in this country. But lately you can hear other voices too. The devastating reach of Covid-19 seems to have begun a conversation about people whom the economy has left behind, the people who are ignored, marginalized, and trampled on by untrammeled capitalism. While it is too soon to know whether the devastation of inequality will remain on the table after this rampaging virus has receded, it just might. Perhaps we might reconsider the prevalent but preposterous idea that one can ever mix health care and the profit motive.
While it makes life easier, technology does little to advance the human race or enhance our humanity. What does do that is social justice, peace, and compassion. If there is ever to be some lemonade to be made out of this terrible disease, it will be a growing awareness of our interdependence as human beings. It will be the experience, and then the conviction, that we cannot essentially be okay if our neighbors are not.