Getting Through the Dark Days

There’s a lot of heightened language going around in America right now, due to the pandemic and the election. I’ve been wanting to write something about the election for weeks — I have a big megaphone on Facebook, with close to 10K friends and followers, and it seems like I ought to say something in this run-up to election day. I’ve had a hard time fixing on exactly what, in part because the thought of moderating many days of potentially hostile / abusive conversation is frankly exhausting. I’ll post something, probably tomorrow.

But today is Halloween, and I wanted to talk a little about holidays and the pandemic. My local friends here in Oak Park tend to be on the science-based, conservative side of health practices. Ditto my college and academic friends across the country (and the world). But I have a lot of readers in other situations, and I know many of them haven’t hunkered down quite as much as my family has.

I see a lot of rhetoric flying these days. ‘Plague rats’ is a term I’ve seen more and more, for example. I don’t love it. I understand where that heated language is coming from, the frustration when you see people who appear to be willfully taking irrational risks, risks that put you and your family at greater risk, and that lead to you needing to restrict yourself even further, for even longer. I have friends who are seriously immunocompromised, or who are living with elderly relatives, who have to be so careful.

How can people be so selfish? It’s easy to get angry in response.

But I see the flip side too. I have a lot of healthcare worker friends and family (lots of teacher friends too), essential workers who have to go into work. At the start of the pandemic, it sort of startled me to see how often, they were actually more willing than my husband or I have been, to be in company with other people.

Because these essential workers have to go in to work and be in close contact with other people, because they know how to take precautions, and because they’re intimately familiar with the science, perhaps they’re actually a little more comfortable with things like going for a masked outdoor walk on a breezy day with a friend (which really is very low risk, especially when community case load is low).

I think for lay people like me and my husband, it’s relatively simple to just ‘shut it down,’ especially since we’re lucky enough to have jobs that allow us to work remotely. So many people don’t have that option, and when I look at communities with lots of people who work shoulder-to-shoulder in factories, for example, doing work that’s essential to preserving the food supply that my family depends on, it’s not so surprising to me that they spend their days in that environment and then don’t see why anyone would balk at something so much lower risk, like outdoor trick-or-treating.

I’m assembling little teal-wrapped treat packages this morning. We did the orange-wrapped candy ones yesterday; teal is for the allergen-friendly non-food treats.

It’s labor-intensive, but you know, the holidays generally are. If this were normal times, I’d be decorating the house and cooking all day for a party tonight. We put in all that labor because life is hard, and holidays are important.

It matters, pausing the daily wheel of drudgery, to create a little fun and joy. That’s what I think about when I’m baking fruitcake in the middle of the night, or icing yet another batch of sugar cookies. And especially, ESPECIALLY now, when people really are suffering all around us, I think it’s important to look for (safe) ways to create a little joy.

I guess that’s my request for all of us. That we extend a little grace to each other, as we all try to navigate this coming week, which will likely be extra difficult in a variety of ways. Trust that people are trying their best, with the knowledge that they have, to keep themselves and their families and their neighbors safe.

And if they clearly aren’t — well, there are probably a host of cultural and societal reasons that have led to the choices they’re making. It’s not really likely that all the terrible, selfish people were born in particular places, is it? When you look at the map of America, the big stretches of red and intense puddles of blue, the simple fact that there’s clearly geography at play also tells us that there must be a host of societal factors leading people to their political (and community health) choices.

Sadly, I have to believe that if I’d been born and raised in one of the hotspots of anti-vaccine, non-mask-wearing, throwing parties willy-nilly in the midst of a pandemic communities, there’s a really good chance I’d be going along with all of that, and might even believe it wholeheartedly. People are sheep, I’m afraid. There’s tons of research that shows that mostly, we believe what the people around us believe, and it’s really hard to break free of that.

So where does that leave us? I think all we can do is try to educate ourselves a little beyond just chatting over the fence (which is likely to just echo right back to you), then yes, talk the options out with your family and neighbors and community, and then do what you decide is right, modeling that behavior for others.

We can and should argue about where the safe line is, exactly, but in the end, we all have to make our own best judgements.

I’m going to set up a table on the sidewalk, put out treats and a sign, refill it periodically from the porch. If friends want to stop by between 1-5 and say hi, I’d be happy to see them, and have a little socially distanced & masked chat outdoors. I could use a little extroversion, for my own mental health. It’s going to be a beautiful sunny autumn afternoon, and winter is coming.

I hope to see lots of smiling eyes above costumed children’s masks this afternoon, and some parents escorting them who are taking a little pleasure in the day.

There’s a reason why there are so many winter holidays, I think. They help get us through the dark days.

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