Wissot: I never thought
I never thought I’d zip around the streets of Denver at 4 in the afternoon as easily as if it was 4 in the morning. I never thought that I’d be standing with 200-plus other customers in a carefully spaced line waiting to buy a bottle of scotch and a six-pack of beer. I never thought the streets of the Mile High City would be completely bereft of human activity and resemble the melancholy present in an Edward Hopper painting.
I never thought friends would call me asking if I had any toilet paper to spare. I never thought that looking at upcoming appointments on my calendar would be pointless because there wouldn’t be any. I never thought there would be a run on signs with the words “closed for business — takeout only.” I never thought that my wife would stop hearing me say, “I want to watch the game tonight.”
I never thought accidentally bumping into a person could be hazardous to our health. I never thought that going for a walk would be the highlight of my day. I never thought that the rise in the number of infections and deaths worldwide would interest me more than the fall in stock market prices. I never thought the public library would bar me from returning overdue books by taping shut the book deposit box slot.
Welcome to the bizarre new normal. Welcome to the Corona Age.
I’ve experienced many unexpected moments in my life, but nothing quite like this moment.
In just two weeks we’ve gone from a mobile, free-wheeling, independent, friendly nation to one that is walled off from one another behind closed doors. Like felons wearing electronic ankle monitors, we have been placed on house arrest.
I’m not scared but I am worried. I’m not afraid of contracting the virus. I’m in excellent health with no underlying medical conditions. I’m worried instead that I might be a carrier and infect a high-risk person. I’m wary of getting too close to someone in a store or on the street for their sake, not mine.
This is a social disease in many ways. We transmit it through close social contact. We prevent its spread by doing what is unnatural for social beings: isolating ourselves from family members and friends who are the source for much of our happiness. It simply sucks, no doubt about it.
History is full of “never thought it could happen” moments. People never thought the Titanic would sink in 1912, or the stock market would crash in 1929, or Pearl Harbor would be bombed in 1941, or JFK would be assassinated in 1963, or the Challenger spacecraft would explode in 1986 or highjacked airplanes would bring down the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
But they all did happen and it would have been implausible to use “never thought it could” as an excuse for any reoccurrences. It’s a little like, “you only get to say you’re sorry once.” The second time you say it leaves doubt whether you really meant it the first time.
Once this pandemic ends, expect to see a thorough investigation similar to the one done by the 9/11 Commission. The first question asked needs to be why the epidemiological models predicting a health crisis of this magnitude were ignored. The answers revealed will help explain why there was such a shortage of tests, masks, ventilators and hospital beds.
Just as no administration after 9/11 wanted to be guilty of the same mistakes which led to that day, no future one will want to be responsible for a second mishandling of a health crisis.
By then we will have returned to our normal routines and forgotten about the social distancing rules, the reliance on food delivery services, the toilet paper shortages and the rest of the mishegas which upended our lives.
But what we will never forget is that the coronavirus outbreak of 2020 happened and none of us will think it couldn’t happen again.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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