If it wasn’t for the news I could believe this was a normal day in April.
The sun is lower now, a quick glance at the clock and confirm 5:11 p.m. Most families will be off the trail, heading home for dinner. It’s a good time for a walk around the lake.
Coming up and around the southern end of the trail, I see them. Hundreds of young thistles standing like soldiers, their singular three-pointed leaf faces worship the bright lake. It isn’t the dark moggy brown water it sees, but the sun. The sun lights the surface of the lake white, tricks the young and I ask myself, “Does it matter? ”
A murder of four walks towards me, “Children there’s a person. Put your masks on…” A bike races between us without ringing its bell. It’s OK, we all saw it coming. The family shuttles pass, the bike zooms away and once again I am alone with the trees and the wide path. I could sing, no one could hear me—the woods are that thick, but I don’t.
Sitting at the west side park bench I notice the date on the dedication plaque installed squarely in the ground. Dedicated to a gentleman born a month before my birthday, exactly, but died in 2002. I wonder, “What was I doing in 2002?” My mind is blank. All I can think about are the ducks on the lake. Where are their nests?
A chuckle of college kids is at the beach laughing at death. Their loud vapor spreading voices travel across the water for the whole park to hear. That is what still water does. All of these people at the lake, trying to be safe while getting some fresh air and this loud pack acting like its a normal day.
The worldwide pause. Will we forget these months? As citizens of the planet- let us promise to never forget. The deaths, suffering, confusion from our leaders, the kindness from neighbors, the debt, the empty shelves at the grocery and in many homes, the masses unable to pay rent, buy food, after only ONE month with no pay, the healthcare system strained, buying face masks for your family, exposed drive-thru workers, crops rotting, the temporary peace in Syria. The pandemic, The Great Pause happened.
Today I am supplementing my journal with this post by Julio Vincent Gambuto writing for “Medium”. His words challenged me and I hope they help you as well today.
Pretty soon, as the country begins to figure out how we “open back up” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal. That never happened. What are you talking about? Billions of dollars will be spent in advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again. It will come in the traditional forms — a billboard here, a hundred commercials there — and in new-media forms — a 2020–2021 generation of memes to remind you that what you want again is normalcy. In truth, you want the feeling of normalcy, and we all want it.
We want desperately to feel good again, to get back to the routines of life, to not lie in bed at night wondering how we’re going to afford our rent and bills, to not wake to an endless scroll of human tragedy on our phones, to have a cup of perfectly brewed coffee and simply leave the house for work.
The need for comfort will be real, and it will be strong. And every brand in America will come to your rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis. I urge you to be well aware of what is coming.
For the last hundred years, the multi-billion-dollar advertising business has operated based on this cardinal principle: find the consumer’s problem and fix it with your product. When the problem is practical and tactical, the solution is “as seen on TV” and available at Home Depot. Command strips will save me from having to re-paint. So will Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser. Elfa shelving will get rid of the mess in my closet. The Ring doorbell will let me see who’s on the porch if I can’t take my eyes off Netflix. But when the problem is emotional, the fix becomes a new staple in your life, and you become a lifelong loyalist. Coca-Cola makes you: happy. A Mercedes makes you: successful. Taking your kids to Disneyland makes you: proud. Smart marketers know how to highlight what brands can do for you to make your life easier. But brilliant marketers know how to re-wire your heart. And, make no mistake, the heart is what has been most traumatized this last month. We are, as a society, now vulnerable in a whole new way.
What the trauma has shown us, though, cannot be unseen. A carless Los Angeles has clear blue skies as pollution has simply stopped. In a quiet New York, you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue. Coyotes have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge. These are the postcard images of what the world might be like if we could find a way to have a less deadly daily effect on the planet.
What’s not fit for a postcard are the other scenes we have witnessed: a healthcare system that cannot provide basic protective equipment for its front line; small businesses — and very large ones — that do not have enough cash to pay their rent or workers, sending over 16 million people to seek unemployment benefits; a government that has so severely damaged the credibility of our media that 300 million people don’t know who to listen to for basic facts that can save their own lives.
The cat is out of the bag. We, as a nation, have deeply disturbing problems. You’re right. That’s not news. They are problems we ignore every day, not because we’re terrible people or because we don’t care about fixing them, but because we don’t have time. Sorry, we have other shit to do. The plain truth is that no matter our ethnicity, religion, gender, political party (the list goes on), nor even our socio-economic status, as Americans we share this: we are busy. We’re out and about hustling to make our own lives work. We have goals to meet and meetings to attend and mortgages to pay — all while the phone is ringing and the laptop is pinging. And when we get home, Crate and Barrel and 3M and Andy Cohen make us feel just good enough to get up the next day and do it all over again. It is very easy to close your eyes to a problem when you barely have enough time to close them to sleep. The greatest misconception among us, which causes deep and painful social and political tension every day in this country, is that we somehow don’t care about each other. White people don’t care about the problems of black America. Men don’t care about women’s rights. Cops don’t care about the communities they serve. Humans don’t care about the environment. These couldn’t be further from the truth. We do care. We just don’t have the time to do anything about it. Maybe that’s just me. But maybe it’s you, too.
Well, the treadmill you’ve been on for decades just stopped. Bam! And that feeling you have right now is the same as if you’d been thrown off your Peloton bike and onto the ground: what in the holy fuck just happened? I hope you might consider this: what happened is inexplicably incredible. It’s the greatest gift ever unwrapped. Not the deaths, not the virus, but The Great Pause. It is, in a word, profound. Please don’t recoil from the bright light beaming through the window. I know it hurts your eyes. It hurts mine, too. But the curtain is wide open.
What the crisis has given us is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see ourselves and our country in the plainest of views. At no other time, ever in our lives, have we gotten the opportunity to see what would happen if the world simply stopped.
Here it is. We’re in it. Stores are closed. Restaurants are empty. Streets and six-lane highways are barren. Even the planet itself is rattling less (true story). And because it is rarer than rare, it has brought to light all of the beautiful and painful truths of how we live. And that feels weird. Really weird. Because it has…never…happened…before. If we want to create a better country and a better world for our kids, and if we want to make sure we are even sustainable as a nation and as a democracy, we have to pay attention to how we feel right now. I cannot speak for you, but I imagine you feel like I do: devastated, depressed, and heartbroken.