Fiddling in a Pandemic

In the past year or more I have genuinely been trying to be more grateful. I have so much for which to be grateful both in the physical sense and in a socio-emotional sense. There’s a roof over my head, my bills are paid, and I’m able to travel sometimes and enjoy leisure activities and the occasional “luxury” purchase. I understand that globally speaking I am rich. Nationally speaking, I’m right about in the middle—not free to blow money whenever I want, but have all my needs met and a little extra for savings and discretionary spending. 

Before the pandemic hit I was a little more able to come to terms with the wealth disparities I already had to face everyday. It sucks to have student debt when my friends don’t, but again it’s a bill I’m able to pay. Yes it would be nice to stay in the 5-star resorts when I travel or fly first class, but I’m grateful to have been able to travel to some new places and even just have the eyes to see new shores. 

Then COVID came and I did at first feel evermore grateful. Not only was I lucky enough to keep all of those privileges, but I also have thus far stayed healthy and seen all of my family members remain relatively healthy. For all of those things I remain eternally grateful. Yet I feel my entire body wither with envy and also with rage at the sight of people I know, even sometimes people I’ve loved, frolicking through the world as if this pandemic has not claimed well over 2 million lives globally with plenty more coming to the brink of death if not destitution. 

Who do you think you are?

I cannot sit up on a high horse and pretend as though I’ve not taken my fair share of “COVID risks.” In fact, most of the precautions I’ve taken have been the direct result of my privilege—I work from home because I’m able to, not by my moral choice. But there is something particularly heinous to me to see average American people boarding planes and jetting off to white sandy beaches, all-inclusive resorts, suddenly empty tourist towns.

I know flights are cheap. I know risk of transmission on planes is relatively low. I know you “socially distance” while you’re on vacation and you “get tested before leaving and when you get back.” It is the principle of the action. 

The United States has lost more people to this pandemic than we did to World War II. While that stat has been played ever since we hit the mark and maybe doesn’t even strike a chord with people, I cannot fathom people who don’t see why now is not the time for tropical vacations. There is a difference of course, to have traveled during a global war, you risked getting bombed or captured by an enemy or something. During this pandemic, you only risk getting sick yourself, bringing illness to others, and/or getting stuck somewhere that is not your home due to traveling restrictions. And of course, commercial travel is a completely different thing now vs. back then.

Yet every single day it seems some other frat boy from my high school or Daddy’s girl from my hometown is posting up on Instagram from a shiny new location—crazy enough so many of them flock to Florida where COVID might be the best case scenario but I digress.

What are you saying when you decide to take a vacation in a barely mitigated global pandemic? I know what you’re telling people —

“Just had to escape the cold!” 

“Feeling so burnt out!” 

“There’s too many restrictions where I live!”

But what you’re really saying is—

“I don’t care about poor people.”

“I don’t care about racial minorities.”

“I don’t care about anyone else I come into close contact with who might not have decided to take a quick little vacay.” 

How do I know this? Because I don’t live under a rock and I happen to have a conscience. We know the COVID disaster has been such a disaster because of failed leadership. We know also that the plans that came from leadership like plans that affect nearly anything else favored rich and white citizens. From the early days of testing to the current vaccine nightmare, rich white folks have been nary afraid of this virus because they knew even if they should become sick they have access to lifesaving medical care that way too many people in this country do not have.

So let’s back up, am I angry that people are wealthy? Kind of, but not really. Am I angry that people have the ability to go on vacation? Still, no. I do wish more people had that ability, sure, but I do not wish all-work-and-no-play on anyone. I am furious that there are so many people who a year ago I saw as either kindhearted or at least empathetic wealthy people who now I look at with disgust. 

To go on vacation in a global pandemic is not the moral equivalent of committing a genocide, no. And if any one person—whether they’ve chosen to vacation or not—could make a small decision that would end the pandemic today, I like to think that person would. The fact is there isn’t. And I know that. I know that any of the people I know and am speaking about and those I don’t even know could not end the pandemic themselves by making the individual decision not to travel.

Like my post on losing sleep, however, I don’t know how you all do it. A year ago as I was taking the risk of going on vacation just before the pandemic really hit the US, I lost any and all relaxation I would have gotten on the trip worrying about getting sick, getting someone sick, or getting trapped due to the imminent danger. That danger has only increased! Sure we know a little more about the virus, some of you I’m sure are even vaccinated because again—privilege. But there’s the whole emotional toll that personally I cannot take. After four years of mocking a president for golfing while people in his country went hungry, plenty of those mocking now lie on the beach while thousands greet death with a loved one watching on FaceTime. I don’t know how you do it.

Except I do know. You pull a sheet down a little lower over your eyes and you live your life. It’s the same way I continue drinking with my friend at the bar after a man approaches the table begging for a dollar. There is way too much bad stuff happening in the world for us to sit at home with a bleeding heart all day along—especially those of us who don’t do jobs that directly address these problems. Feeling guilty is usually not productive—that is unless it leads you to action.

They say Nero fiddled while Rome burned. And the people I’m talking about by and large have nowhere near the power Nero did, but it’s pretty disheartening to try to check my Instagram every day without seeing another person I respected fiddling in a global pandemic.

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