(RNS) — Today, I canceled all our travel plans for the week after Christmas. My husband and I had made an AirBnB reservation down South, with the hope of being able to repeat what we did for a couple of weeks this summer: have a socially distanced vacation with outdoor meals, visits to places like gardens and cemeteries and parks, and plenty of time to read.
It’s not going to happen.
We had a terrific time in August on that tour of the upper Midwest, back when daily cases of the virus were between 35,000 and 50,000. My husband is a huge fan of lighthouses, so we saw several of those. I’m a huge fan of long walks, so we did those too.
It was encouraging to me that even in the midst of a pandemic, when we didn’t feel comfortable flying on a plane, and weren’t welcome as Americans many other places in the world, we could drive around our own country, a happy dog in tow, to see the beauty of the Great Lakes. We also had backyard visits with several friends — a lifeline to this extrovert. I came home refreshed.
Now, daily COVID-19 cases are topping 200,000, with no immediate relief on the horizon. Hospitals are taxed to the breaking point. Worst of all, the daily death toll has been over 2,800 this week, and that, too, shows no sign of slowing down.
That’s like having 9/11 repeated on a loop every single day, except this time we don’t need foreign terrorists to murder Americans. We’re doing a damned efficient job at that ourselves.
What has happened to our country?
Compassion fatigue is one thing, and I get that. It’s just not possible to read or watch every COVID death story anymore, because the emotional toll would be overwhelming. We’ve been in the grim throes of this pandemic for nine months now, and our nation has lost more than 276,000 souls so far. If we attended to every tragedy, every day, we would go crazy.
But there’s a world of difference between the stiff-upper-lip “keep calm and carry on” mode that people naturally adopt in wartime and the callous denial I see around me. The parking lot of my local mall is full to overflowing; who are these people and what shopping “need” is so pressing it can’t be postponed or ordered online?
Everywhere, people are wailing about their individual freedoms being curtailed. Boo hoo, they have to wear a mask when they visit the mall to buy the shoes they’ll wear to the holiday party that some Very Mean People have told them they shouldn’t be attending.
Those Very Mean People must be un-American, they cry, because everyone knows America is about the freedom to do whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want — even if your exercise of that freedom endangers other people.
The blatant selfishness makes me afraid for the future of our country. This pandemic had the potential to draw our nation closer together, united in purpose against a common (viral) enemy. We’ve certainly been through far worse than this as a people. During World War II our leaders asked us to pitch in, to make sacrifices for the common good, and for the most part we did it.
We recognized short-term costs — buying liberty bonds, rationing gasoline, planting Victory gardens — were far less invasive than the long-term costs of even more catastrophic losses should we balk at doing what was necessary for the good of the nation.
Then, many Americans were asked to sacrifice their own or their family members’ lives to go to war on foreign soil. Now, many Americans think it is cruel and unusual punishment that we are being asked to stay home and entertain ourselves with Netflix.
Seriously, that is the “sacrifice” our nation is asking of us right now, and we cannot stop bellyaching about the unfairness of it all.
So, my vacation is canceled. It was depressing to pull the plug on that potential spot of fun in the midst of so much sadness and uncertainty. But travel is a privilege I can’t have right now. Getting together with family and friends is a privilege I can’t have right now.
It’s not forever. Given the joyous news about how quickly scientists have been able to find a vaccine — the fastest vaccine turnaround time in world history — it’s probably not even for another nine months.
Can we put other people’s health before our own convenience while we wait for that? Please, America?