“Back from Washington so soon, Aussie?”
“Donald sent me here to be a spy.”
“He said he hated to send anyone to Massachusetts—”It’s a bad place, a bad place,” is how he put it –but he needed to get information.”
“What kind of information?”
“You know how you took Harry and me for a ride one day and parked the car? And we waited in the back seat while you were outside handing out food cards behind your mask? That kind of information.”
“And did you tell Donald?”
“Expect to be arrested any day now.”
“And who’ll feed you then, Aussie?”
“Oh oh, didn’t think of that.”
I left the house early this moment and went to Trader Joe’s for their early morning opening hours for the elderly. I’m not that elderly and I prefer mixing with younger folks, but the lines are shorter at this hour.
Usually I like to chat with the cashier while I pack my bags. This time I stood behind the yellow line while he totaled things up and someone else bagged them. Still, I had a chance to ask them how they are doing and to thank them for working. What would I do without them? What would I do without food?
We have to open things up here. I feel that even though just three days ago the governor confirmed that all schools and childcare centers are shut till summer at the earliest. Around me almost everyone is afraid of opening up too soon, everyone wears masks and almost emphatically keeps distance. “Be safe,” I’m told all the time.
Honestly, I don’t want to be safe anymore. Honestly, I feel that being safe, closing myself up at home and limiting my exposure, is a luxury I can’t afford—not if I want to be a conscious and aware member of the human race. Aware of what? Of being among those who can afford the shutdown because they can work from home or else don’t depend for income on a salary for location-based work.
Someone wrote me from Germany asking if food gift cards are truly what undocumented families need here. In Germany, he wrote, getting food is not an issue; medical care and other things are. I checked around. We have three food pantries in our area; each gives out supplies once a month, so families with 4, 5 and 6 children get only three supplies of food a month. These consist mainly of canned, nonperishable foods; they usually don’t include things like vegetables, fruit, eggs, or fresh meat. A neighboring city has churches giving out various meals (in virus times, mostly sandwiches, though Stone Soup Café gives out full hot meals once a week) but many families can’t get there because they have no cars, essential in this rural area.
That doesn’t mean they don’t need lots of help with other things, and I’ve talked with Jimena Peraja about how to get them cash to meet other kinds of bills. We agreed to keep the focus on food cards but use some money to help in emergency situations.
I watch workers at grocery and food stores, at medical facilities, the dishwashers and floor cleaners and hospital cooks, not to mention the entire medical profession. I read about the starvation that has already begun in Asian countries, the Chinese factory workers who produced our cheap clothes and household goods, and who now have no jobs so their families barely survive. Migrant workers in Africa and Asia walk home hundreds of miles, emptyhanded, while those who await them are wives and children who need food.
I can’t not see it: To keep me safe, people are starving. Stores, restaurants and hotels shutting down means that I’m safe while millions are out of work. That’s not a price I wish to have paid.
For me, “Be safe” has come to mean: stay home, don’t mix, don’t shop. Holler at every governor who opens up restrictions just a little bit, get puffed up with indignation because your very life feels threatened. And while I’m being safe, children go hungry.
I wish I could see it another way, but I can’t.
“Life doesn’t feel suddenly great because you have a big experience of how we’re all one body,” Bernie used to say. “If anything, that’s when you really start seeing the catastrophes all around. Before you saw them, too, but now you know they’re all you.”
I am ready to be careful, but I won’t live in fear of death. There are people who rushed to New York to help when the pandemic hit. There are also folks who left their homes and hurried like refugees to vacation homes or an island surrounded by clear blue water.
“How are you doing?” I emailed a friend of mine.
“I’m perfectly safe and far away,” he replied.
I don’t want to be far away. I want to be up close and personal, bound and pledged to the human race.
I don’t live in New York; our hospitals haven’t run out of beds. I’d like us to open up with some caution. Promote guidelines on how to bring folks back to work, wear masks everywhere. Those of us who don’t wish to take risks can stay home. I can make my own decisions about going to restaurants, flying, and traveling. You don’t have to close up the world on my account.
I get it’s different in a dense city. I get it’s different where hospital facilities are inadequate. But a country-wide or even a state-wide ban isn’t effective until we all appreciate the full price being paid—and are ready to pay it ourselves rather than delegating it to others.
I try to remember that, as Charles Eisenstein wrote, “a life saved is actually a death postponed.” When I really face that—that whatever I’m trying to avoid is in the long run inevitable—it restores some perspective.