Thursday, June 25, 2020
The Allegory of the Knife
"This broadcast is interrupted with a warning. A person carrying a knife is roaming the neighborhood. They are wearing a ski mask so their gender and race cannot be determined. Use extreme caution. This individual appears ready to attack."
What do you do? Make sure all doors and windows are locked? Turn on the security system? Call a neighbor to see if they want to go for a walk? Most people would stay indoors and hope local law enforcement will quickly apprehend the dangerous interloper.
But after a day of searching without spotting the potential killer, law enforcement announces the person cannot be found. Local and state police efforts, combined with neighborhood watchfulness, must have caused the fiend to leave. A few suspicious souls doubt the person really meant to harm anyone.
With joy only partially tempered by reservation, you go to the grocery store and take your kids to summer camp. The next morning, you learn the couple across the street was stabbed while walking their dog. Their survival is uncertain.
A killer virus is stalking our community. We've been unable to attend normal activities, and we learned Zoom is more than a comic book verb. More important, a lot of people have died.
Then it's Phase 4 in my state and we're told it's safer to venture out if we take precautions. But when we do, we face a disheartening environment.
The virus was not transient and is still roaming freely. Yet some people dismiss the danger and say precautions are an attack on their freedom. They are willing to infect others by laughing or coughing in a grocery aisle, knowing their droplets will remain in the air for the next few customers to walk through.
What's their rationale? The virus spreaders believe they have every right to be where they want to be and share their germs. And the ultimate defense – this is America!
Sure, if they were sick, they'd stay home. When told as many as 40% of cases are spread by those without symptoms, they have one of two responses: "I don't believe you," or "Life is about risk. Stay home if you don't want to get sick." In other words, if you don't want your lungs damaged, it's your job to stay away from people brandishing microscopic weapons.
Why write this now? Because as an asthmatic who's been more short-of-breath since a bout with pneumonia last fall, I welcomed Phase Four as a chance to cautiously go beyond neighborhood walks, a few early-morning trips to the store, and a visit to the farmers' market.
Since face coverings (a.k.a. masks) are required when social distancing isn't possible, I thought it should be safe. Wrong. I've tried a couple of stores, and it was at best 50/50 for mask wearing. I fled.
The difference between now and the first few months of isolation is the anger. Why should I have to stay home nearly all the time because of selfish people?
Today I had an epiphany of sorts. I'm old enough to remember the 'smoking in public' debate. Second hand smoke cause cancer? Hell no, said a lot of smokers. And besides, as Americans they should be able to smoke freely.
Over time, attitudes changed. Most people knew of someone whose cancer had an environmental cause, and lung cancer made it to the top of the list.
What's different now is we can get very sick or die from COVID-19 after a brief exposure. No need to wait years for lungs to blacken. The knife is out in the neighborhood, in the grocery store, at church, and even in a park. It only takes one laugh or sneeze.
* * * * *
Elaine usually writes mysteries or reflective fiction. While she likes to stay inside and write, she would prefer to go out to do it. But she would rather live to write another day. Learn more about her work at https://www.elaineorr.com.