A Once in a Century Event

This essay is an attempt to work through feelings of loss and grief in a humorous way. It mentions some lighter aspects of life during the coronavirus pandemic. The tiny struggles I and my family faced were minute and inconsequential compared to many, many others’ hardships and tragic loss of loved ones, livelihoods, and health.

When you take a long view of history, this little coronavirus nuisance is nothing but a blip. Consider Y2k, which was a once in a millennia event and, although people found a way to be scared about that, too, at least it was commemorated with parties. Maybe this pandemic will be ushered out with parties. That is my vision. If only Prince were still here to write us a timely, pandemic banger.

“If you didn’t come to party, don’t bother knockin’ on my door.”

This catastrophe is different, of course, than the turn of the millenia. It’s more drawn out. And because of that, it seems we should be more able to examine and process its effects in real time. Many, including myself, have tried. There have been so many think pieces written and uncountable hours of podcast ponderings spoken as we try to fill the hours which are crawling along, almost standing still. Here we are, trying to make sense of falling while still in mid-fall.

Reflecting on the pandemic feels premature right now since just received my 2nd vaccine and thousands of people in India and elsewhere are still dying everyday. So much has happened and is continuing to happen, I can’t begin to understand how this once-a-century event is going to affect me in the long term. But. I can tell you what it’s been like so far.

Not pretty, friend. NOT pretty! Learning to slow down and appreciate the sound of birds chirping was nice — for about 2 weeks. Sleeping in is still fun, but I’d trade it lickedy-split for the chance to sing and sweat with strangers at a rock concert.

I heard that birthdays from the past year don’t count. But look in the mirror! How many new gray hairs do you have? We all aged at least 5 years following the bonkers news cycle of 2020, so I’m not buying the time-has-stood still logic.

Staying married through the past 14 months was an exercise in extreme frustration to say the least. It was frustrating in the way trying to carefully open the hermetically-sealed-plastic bag of cereal with your hands is frustrating. It’s impossible! Just get the scissors and give up already, amirite?!

Single people living alone didn’t have it any easier. Trying to get laid during a pandemic is it’s own special kind of torture. And those who tried to hold out without any human touch for a year-and-a half are now heavily medicated and 30 pounds heavier. The latest ad I saw for Meals on Wheels proclaimed “Social Isolation is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!” I don’t know about you, but at this point I’d choose cigarettes over one more week of Zoom calls. No matter to what extent you have enjoyed this peaceful time of self-righteous-hiding-from-others, social isolation is not what our little brains and bodies are designed for.

There has been no easy road through this pandemic. In fact, just living here in a metropolis area has felt eerily similar to living through The Divine Comedy only instead of being allocated to one specific circle of hell as Dante suggested, we have been subject to all nine of them! Let’s take a little tour, shall we?

Lil Nas X in the 7th circle, level 3

The 1st circle: Limbo, for the unbelievers

Is the virus real? Our president said not to worry, so not everyone is sure if it’s even real. Maybe it’s just the flu! According to Dante there is no physical punishment in this circle of hell, and for many of us, this was accurate. But for over half a million Americans, our collective disbelief was deadly.

The 2nd circle: Lust

American adults became slaves to our passion for many months of the pandemic — our passion for C-SPAN. We couldn’t get enough of the election newscycle, the riots, the protests, the vigils. It was all too much to resist. And so we were swept and blasted by a dark storm which is, perhaps, why the wildfires made it all the way up to the lush, rainy state of Oregon last year.

The 3rd circle: Gluttony

For all of my brothers and sisters who spent hours a day last spring stress-eating while standing over the sink, or binging cookie dough on the couch. Oreos. Ben n Jerry’s. Blocks of cheese. And oh, Sweet Jeebus, the potato chips. There we lay in our own filth like pigs. Yup, that was us all right!

The 4th circle: Greed

Toilet paper, anyone? Maybe you didn’t hoard toilet paper, but you hoarded something! Lysol wipes? Money? The potato chips from your family? And our punishment in this greedy circle? To be eternally fighting over things. Fighting over justice, equality; or yeast and flour.

The 5th circle: Anger and Sloth

The angry portion of this circle is found above the river Styx, and rotated populations during the pandemic because it was the most popular circle. Americans in a pandemic love to be angry! First, the Trump haters were angry. Then the Trump supporters. Depending on the month, this circle held contingents of maskers and anti-maskers; vaxxers and anti-vaxxers. And of course, the Board of Directors of the circle are rich, whiteguys because they have perfected the art of both sins — living in a perpetual state of sloth and anger (“Things are changing! Other people want my wealth and power! That I inherited from my dad! Wah!”)

(Luis Sinco / LA Times)

The 6th circle: Heresy

Heresy is a belief or opinion contrary to what is generally accepted. Here we have another revolving door situation depending on whether you are looking at the period before or after Donald Trump was banned from Twitter. Because while Donald Trump has never, ever been anything less than heretical, the media loved to publish his tweets and Americans of all political leanings loved to read them. That dysfunctional cycle may have swung the pendulum toward the fantastical far more than any of us want to admit and therefore, turned his unintelligible rants and opinions into “what was generally accepted.” For our sins, all of us were entombed in flaming crypts (aka our homes full of clutter and multiple laptops sucking all the Wifi).

The 7th circle: Violence

We are surrounded by blood and fire in this multi-tiered circle of violence. Cue big city police departments. Get out your most expensive riot gear for journalists to take your picture before you break their arms and throw them in the paddywagon! This level is for those who are violent toward others.

The second level on the 7th circle of violence is for those who are violent toward themselves. Levels of depression and drug use soared to new heights during the pandemic. Opioid overdoses killed more people in San Francisco than the virus did. High schools in Las Vegas opened amid a deadly surge because so many children were killing themselves. What a time to be alive! Once in a century is too often for my taste.

The 8th circle: Fraud

The circle of hell with ten trenches holds all manner of leaders and false prophets — none of whom are qualified — telling us the vaccine will kill us; others touting the vaccine as the final answer. It also houses those who have schemed destitute people into giving them money in exchange for false hope. And, don’t forget- the billionaires who snatched up all of the PPP loans from small businesses, and the liars like those in charge of Kroger grocery stores who refused to pay hero pay to their employees on the front lines because they “couldn’t afford it”.

The 9th circle: Treachery

Remember the ice storms in and around Texas this winter? Those were the frozen wasteland of the 9th circle for business owners and corporations who refuse to pay a living wage to adults who are struggling and then blame the adults for “not wanting to work” because they are getting unemployment now. Traitors to the human race — these bosses who expect people to work strenuous jobs for peanuts and no benefits.

And, then there was our own president who was guilty of treason, calling on his supporters to storm the capital like we are living in The Hunger Games. Fantasy writers will have to invent a new genre to surprise us now because Americans have seen it all! We’ve seen it all and then promptly plopped into bed with a glass of red, a Xanax, and some pringles thinking, Oh, well. Someone will fix it.

Looking back now, I remember Y2k as little more than a grandiose lead-up to one night of celebration and curiosity about what was going to happen. And then… nothing. Nothing changed when the clock struck midnight.

After this pandemic is over — in 6 months? 2 years? — what will have changed for me or for the rest of the country and the world? I have no idea. We are falling and haven’t hit the ground yet*. How do I know what will break and what will become stronger?

Things are definitely changing. But I can’t say exactly how. I can’t see the bigger picture and I don’t think anyone else can either. Information saturation has confused my thoughts and feelings. The emotional weight of being aware of so many problems was, and is totally exhausting.

So far I’ve been wrong about many things. And so have scientists, community leaders, and experts. No one knows much because everything is new and that is hard to sit with. The only thing I know for sure is what I’m doing, thinking, and feeling right now. Maybe living during this novel coronavirus outbreak has given me enough perspective to find meaning in this day and this minute. I can work for what I want to change and accept the things outside my scope. This is all anyone can do. And it has taken a global catastrophe for some of us to realize it.

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I make a mean martini; am often reading; and usually thinking about my relationships, my teenagers and how I’m probably messing them up.

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Shannon Driskill

Shannon Driskill

I make a mean martini; am often reading; and usually thinking about my relationships, my teenagers and how I’m probably messing them up.

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