Things Could Be Worse
3,000 American deaths daily right now. The pandemic seems to have decided that, with the vaccine being rolled out this week, it had better step up its efforts to sicken and kill as many of us as possible. With the help, of course, of those who eschew masks and social distancing and other common-sense precautions for their own strange reasons. At this writing there is no further federal aid coming for small businesses, the unemployed and other hurting folks, so, for many, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” (to quote Jo in Little Women). Add in the vast array of natural disasters and terrible incidences of racial injustice, and I’d say 2020 has been one for the books (if the books were written by Stephen King, that is).
But I am reminded that things could be worse.
One of Aiden’s current favorite books is one that his father, uncles and aunts had also read, back in the day. It is written for young people, but the title has undoubtedly kept it off many tot’s shelves (and I frankly question our judgement in purchasing it). Pompeii: Buried Alive! tells the gruesome tale of the day in 79 AD that Vesuvius erupted and turned the city’s inhabitants to sudden ash-covered corpses. That true story was one of the horrors of my childhood memory, seeing those photos from archeological digs of the diners at table, the masters, slaves, children at play—all petrified in place. So yes, that was a pretty bad day (at least for Pompeii).
Even if we just focus on the virus, we realize that things could, indeed, be worse there too—we could be living in 1918, when the Spanish Influenza carried off millions, and, with no vaccine, had to run its deadly course for two years. And I’m imagining the medieval bubonic and other plagues were no strolls in the park either.
I play the “could be worse” game often, to soothe my soul and help make the miserable present more palatable. And for sure there is no dearth of examples of times in human history that were pretty darned horrible. Hard to compare the relative hardships of no indoor restaurant dining and being buried alive, right?
I think by dwelling on those “worse” times, though, I may be missing the point. Maybe what I should be focusing on is: things could be better. Because that’s where I, where we, have some agency. Unlike the doomed Pompeiians, we are not rendered mute and immobile. We can fight COVID, and honor the sacrifices being made by our front-line workers, simply by wearing that mask, even if it’s stuffy and unflattering. We can pause our traveling and our visiting for one holiday season, to protect our loved ones and ourselves. We can do more to save the planet from man-made destruction. We can treat our fellow humans with respect and kindness.
Things could be better, much better, my friends. And if we all do our part, things will be.