I am sitting at my desk in my home office watching the trees violently thrash this way and that as tropical storm winds gust to over 50 miles an hour in blinding rain.
I learn today in the Washington Post that deaths from Covid-19 have topped 155,000 and are continuing to add about a thousand a day with no end in sight. Known infections from the pandemic now top 4 million though many public health experts believe the number could be as much as 10 times higher. Most experts see these numbers rising in the weeks and months ahead, until we can get a vaccine. But when will that happen? Will it happen? We have never come up with a vaccine to prevent AIDS.
I also learn today that the more than 30 million people who have lost their jobs and who were receiving an extra $600 a week in unemployment insurance saw their benefit cease yesterday, and Congress appears stuck in an effort to try to keep the money flowing. Republicans and Democrats appear so far apart that there is no certainty that any comprehensive, additional federal support will come out of this. Over 25 percent of the households in the United States missed either a mortgage or rent payment in July—and that is when most struggling households were receiving additional unemployment benefits. More than five million have lost their employer-based health care and now have no health insurance.
It could get worse. The federal halt on evictions also ceased on Monday. It is only a matter of time before hundreds of thousands of people could be thrown out on the street. Yet our ability to deal with homelessness is already inadequate. It is also only a matter of time before the real estate portion of the economy could collapse. When landlords don’t get rent, they can’t pay the banks or mortgage companies for the loans they have taken out. When banks or mortgage companies do not receive payments, they foreclose on properties. When banks or mortgage companies do not receive income, they go under.
And the same could be said of many state and local governments who have lost tax revenues while they have had to add services. Many are laying off workers now because they do not have the funds to pay them, and this includes teachers and other essential workers. Unemployment numbers are likely to rise. Yet there is disagreement between Republican and Democrats about whether bailout money is needed and who should get it.
And all the while our president sits on the sidelines complaining of potential voter fraud and news networks he does not like, and lashing out at people like Doctor Deborah Birx, who have dutifully stood by the president at the risk of their own reputations hoping they could make a difference.
Perhaps not. Perhaps we will come out of this ok. We will elect Joe Biden, and the Democrats will control both houses of Congress. Responsible legislation will pass. But this is by no means guaranteed; and even if this does happen, huge challenges still remain. The pandemic will not magically go away, and there are no quick fixes to the economy. And the answers are not all that self-evident. For example, we know that getting kids back into the schools is critically important and that virtual learning is not an answer long term. Yet going back into classrooms risks lives of teachers and kids and their families. And what about the colleges and universities that are now trying to re-open in a Covid-world? Does anyone think they can do this without serious outbreaks? Yet the on-campus college experience is so important. Where do you draw the line?
And what about the vast majority of the country who has not gotten sick? We are the fortunate ones. Yet we are also paying a price. We miss getting together in person with friends and family. We are sick of having to wear a mask when we are out of our home. We want to be with real people—not just Zoom images. We want to go out to eat inside a restaurant, to see a show or a performance, to attend group or club in-person meetings, to go to religious services. We want to go back to the office, to go to work, and to go back to our familiar lifestyles. And so many of us live at home alone. My goodness, how will they get through this? How will all of us get through this? Just think of all the weddings postponed and all the cancellations: the milestone birthday parties, the graduations, the retirement parties, the vacations and trips, the family reunions, the in-person funerals. Lord have mercy, these are the kinds of things that keep us going. When will this nightmare end?
Well, yes. At least in my experience. My generation has experienced nothing like this. We are living in an historical moment.
But wait! As I look out my window, I am stunned. The rain has ceased. The wind is calm, and a tiny hint of blue is peeking through the clouds. Suddenly a flash of sunlight lights up the drenched tress. The storm has passed.
I think as I conclude this writing: This hideous pandemic, like the storm, will pass. This divided country of ours will come through this. We will become a kinder and gentler nation. The world will make progress. Yes, this is a statement of faith, not fact. But what I do know is this: Only a hour or so ago the sky was almost black, the wind was howling and the rain pounding on my window. There seemed to be no end in sight. Right now the sun is shining brightly.