There’s a meme that goes around online every so often that basically says, “I don’t know how to make you care about other people.” I think about that a lot these days. I thought about it yesterday when the mayor of my Tennessee town finally issued a mandatory shelter-in-place order. I wasn’t mad about the order (I applaud his decision), but I made the mistake of reading the comments.
You’d think that after over a decade of working online I’d know better, but I guess I thought I’d see lots of happiness, lots of gratitude. Instead, mixed in with the messages of thanks were people who were seriously, seriously mad that the mayor thinks he can “strip away” their “constitutional rights.”
As you can imagine, it got worse from there.
I don’t know why I was surprised that there are still so many people in the United States who are defying shelter-in-place orders, who are prioritizing their vacations and their plans, who insist that they should be able to go to any large gathering they want when we have so much evidence that doing any of that is really, really dangerous right now.
It’s dangerous for you, for your kids, for your family. It’s dangerous for people like my husband, who will be in the hospital treating anyone who gets sick. Health care workers don’t have the option to casually relax at home and do what they want. They don’t have that luxury right now. The rest of us do.
And before I go too far, let me say this: I understand that a lot of people have lost jobs right now. I understand that a lot of employers are being awful. I understand that a lot of landlords are threatening eviction, and I understand there is a lot of fear out there about how people will get by without being able to leave and go to work. I have been the mom who skips meals so her kid can eat, the mom who has to decide which bills can be two or three months late so that rent can be paid on time. I know that it’s hard and that it’s really scary.
I know that the full weight of this health crisis can’t and won’t be felt until we are all, collectively, on the other side of it. I know then that the true mourning will begin.
I also know that this health crisis is real and that it spreads rapidly in groups of humans hanging out near one another. I know that people of all ages are getting really sick, and they are dying.
That’s why we decided that my husband should live apart from our family for the duration of this thing. We don’t have a basement or a separate building nearby that he can live in. We thought about turning our office into a makeshift bedroom, but the emotional weight of having him here but not actually here felt really stark and unbearable.
If it were just me, it would be fine. He could be here or not be here, whatever he was comfortable with. But we have an 11-year-old who has asthma (among other conditions), and neither of us was comfortable putting our son at risk.
So my health care worker husband, who also has asthma, is staying somewhere else.
Generally, during the day it’s OK. I’m thankfully still working, and that takes up a lot of my time two to three days a week. My son was already homeschooling before this all started, so he has a lot that he can do each day to keep himself occupied. I have definitely gotten lax on screen time rules, though I’m starting to rein that back in because I can’t help myself.
But the nights are when things get weird — when things feel … strange. Again, if it were just me, I’d be OK. I’m great at hanging out alone, and I can wrap my head around the bigger picture here. But our kid? He is super social. And on top of that, he LOVES his dad. They have an amazing bond.
He and his dad are just … really sweet. They’re very physically affectionate, and there’s a lot of hugging and cuddling in our house. They share a sense of humor that is truly ridiculous, and they like to spend time together. They recently watched all of the Mad Max movies, which is a series of films I have zero interest in seeing or discussing. They play video games together. They learn languages and practice piano together. They can build Legos together for hours. They have a Dungeons and Dragons group even, which is just about the nerdiest thing in the world.
But right now, they can’t do any of that. So far, in the last week, our son has seen his dad for an hour, total. Most of that was while his dad stood 10 feet in front of the house and they spoke through our glass front door. And you know what? That sucks.
They talk to each other every night when he calls to see how the day went. They’re in the middle of Tom Sawyer, so my husband reads it to our son over speaker phone until they’re both ready to fall asleep. It works for them, but I can’t say that there haven’t been tears shed by all three of us when it’s happening.
Mostly, having him live away from us has taken a situation that is already scary and uncomfortable and filled with so many questions and magnified all of that by about a million. It’s personally terrifying. I’m worried all the time that someone who hasn’t been following social distancing guidelines is going to get sick, that they will show up at his hospital while he’s working, and that they will get him sick. I’m worried about what that will be like for him, and for all of us.
I’ve stopped reading the news regularly, because it feels like there’s nothing I can do anyway. I check once a day to see what the numbers are, to see what other countries are doing, to read a fact check of the latest presidential briefing (and those fact checks never do me any good, but I like to know what’s real and what’s not).
I’m distraught, and I’m upset, and I’m pretty mad that my kid has to be put in this position. I’m mad that our family, and families all over the world, are having to make these impossible choices. But I’m extra mad that there are so many people out there who just don’t care, who rely on other people to make these choices so that their own lives can be lived how they want them to. That really, really burns me up.
We aren’t the only people who are having a rough time right now, and I know that we’re even lucky that we have this option available to us. A wonderful friend stepped up and offered a space for my husband to stay at for now, and there are other groups online who are organizing RVs for health care workers. Some cities are even paying for hotel rooms for health care workers, so they can have a place to self-isolate safely while they aren’t at work. These kinds of things make me feel like maybe the world is OK.
If you’ve been mostly staying home but are getting bored, or you’ve been solid for three weeks but you can’t help complaining about it, I get it. But know that while you and I are in our comfortable homes, there are people who don’t have access to that. There are tons of people on the planet who don’t have a safe home to isolate in, people who don’t have access to food they can have delivered to their homes. People who don’t have access to clean water that they can wash their hands with.
And there are also people who are on the front lines of this thing, battling a disease no one can predict while being scared to death they are going to get the virus and give it to people they love, or that they’ll have to battle it alone, without anyone by their sides. And those people need to be considered, too.
We aren’t making decisions just for ourselves anymore. As a country, as a planet, we need to be beyond that. If you aren’t yet, I don’t know what else to say to you other than it’s time. Get with it. Think about someone else for a change, while you still have the luxury to do so.