I remember 9/11 well. People were shocked and angry, but also brave and compassionate. Police and firefighters ran into the burning World Trade Towers to save office workers. Many of those police and firefighters were still there trying to save lives when the buildings collapsed over and under them.
On a hijacked flight over Pennsylvania, passengers heard by telephone of the collapse of the Trade Towers and surmised that their hijackers planned a similar strike. Some of the passengers huddled, plotted and made a pact to overcome the terrorists.
The terrorists had already murdered the pilots, and so the passengers knew their actions would crash the plane and end their own lives. But they figured that by crashing the plane before reaching the building that the terrorists had targeted (we now know it was the Capitol Building) they could save people.
A passenger pictured above named Todd Beamer said the Lord’s Prayer. Others joined in. At the conclusion he said, “Let’s roll.” And they did. All aboard died, but thousands on the ground were saved.
But then there’s COVID. I see very little courage, compassion or heroism here. OK, there’s some by medical workers. But I see none by politicians who want to game the pandemic for political advantage. I see none by school teachers who want to “work” from home forever at the expense of taxpayers’ money – and children’s learning and mental health – even though there’s virtually no increased contagion in the schools. I see none from workers who saw the pandemic as a gravy train of free money as the politicians catered to them with payments for non-work.
What I do see is that people have become mean. I use the term in the dictionary sense: small, stingy, unkind.
You see it on the highways. Cloaked in semi-anonymity, drivers are rude and aggressive. Traffic deaths are way up in 2021 – not just compared to 2020 when there were fewer people on the highway because the pandemic was keeping them home, but also compared to prior years. People have become mean and unsafe drivers.
You also see it in the crime statistics. Murder and other violent crimes are way up. People have become mean criminals.
It’s in politics. Gotcha tribalism rules the day. Wild name-calling abounds, with allegations of racism, Nazism, communism, fascism and corruption, hurled by anyone against anyone who dares disagree with whatever. Politics has gotten very mean.
It’s in the public square. People get cancelled and ruined for things they said in a different context and century. The public square is a mean place.
In part, I blame this on simple human nature. It’s a common myth that people are basically good. They’re not. As humans go, the police, firefighters and airplane passengers mentioned above who are rightly and forever honored for their selfless actions on 9/11 were extraordinary, not ordinary.
Ordinary humans are less admirable. They’re the narcissistic rioters, the looters, the angry political partisans, the violent criminals, the greedy teachers’ unions, and the predatory automobile drivers. They’re the couch potatoes collecting COVID payments because, well, why work?
But another part of it is COVID itself. It’s the daily grind of an uncertain disease that is asymptomatic or mild in most cases but can also kill – and has killed nearly a million so far in this country alone. Travel and routines are disrupted. People are stressed, not so much by the disease which we seldom see in-person, but by the environment we’ve created in our inept management of it.
We demand that people wear masks, the efficacy of which is less proven than the medicines that so-called journalists told us were hoaxes because that’s what fit their narrative. What could be more de-humanizing in a society than masking our smiles and scowls? If the Nazis had thought of it, they’d have put masks on death camp inmates and guards.
That’s what I’ll remember about COVID.
I’m done with it. I’m done hunkering down in a small, stingy and unkind world that is weirdly obsessed with the fantasy of eradicating COVID or, worse, pretends to be obsessed as justification for a sick agenda. I’m thrice vaccinated. I choose to live free – to live free! – in the imperfect world we’ve been given.
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