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I live in a very red state now, apparently redder than Georgia and Texas. I live in a neighborhood that I love because there are small homes with neatly mowed lawns near old mansions with roman columns. You could say this area meets the progressive definition of “diverse,” which cares only about neighbors having different hues as they sit on their front porches, as people still do here. But it meets my definition of “diverse,” too, because there are Trump flags galore and Biden/Harris signs staked in the grass, and no one disturbs anyone else’s stuff.
The truth is that I rejoice on almost every run through these streets littered with leaves about how plainly American this very mixed neighborhood feels because it’s plain to me that these families have different incomes, different demographics, different opinions, and it is fine. This is a reflection of the country I grew up loving. Unlike the hyper blue bubble of Austin that I recently began to find so suffocating that I had to leave it behind me, this place feels normal.
Except it’s not.
Putting aside the polarized politics of our day, there is the Covid pandemic.
Let me set the stage, so you’ll understand the situation here per the local health department’s figures. This is a county of over 470,000 people. There have been 105 deaths from Covid in total at the hour of this posting, and 54 of those deaths were people over 75. The health department is currently citing a “spike” in community spread despite mandated masks in all public buildings, a mandate which has been in place for months. These spikes in people infected with Covid have nothing to do with deaths from Covid, which are not exponential, and the data here makes it very clear who is really vulnerable, which brings me to my real topic.
I was talking to my neighbor who has a son in elementary school. Her politics and mine don’t match much, but there’s more to life than politics. She is a very nice person. However, she told me something that made me profoundly sad after I’d already gone to Kroger to buy my chocolate for Halloween. She said she made it entirely his decision, but her son feels too frightened to go trick-or-treating this year. He says it’s not worth “the risk” to go door to door when Covid is such a big threat.
Furrowing my brow as we talked on the sidewalk, I asked if he understood that no children have died in the entire county, that very few children have even gotten sick anywhere in the country, that very few adults have died in this area, and many of those people who have passed away were already very old and fragile.
My new friend said she understood all of this quite well, and one can say numbers like this to a kid, but her son wakes up in the morning and has to put on a mask to get on the school bus. Then he must wear that mask all day long in a school building except at lunch when children are spaced from each other, socially distanced, so they’re “safe” while eating. He is told this is necessary because if he doesn’t wear his mask and sit apart, people will die. How else are you going to get children in elementary school to wear something across their face day in, day out for hours at a time?
So the message this kid has gotten from that “harmless” piece of paper people keep talking about as an “easy sacrifice” and “mere inconvenience” for citizens to cheaply stop Covid spread, that “simple” piece of paper, which is so good for society that people like me who despise masks should just shut up and put one on, is that there is a Monster Pandemic that is eating the nation. This Monster will eat this boy if he isn’t super cautious. (Can you picture the image of the Monster a child’s imagination can manufacture?)
A Monster of some sort–I’m not sure it’s really called Covid–is reaching out and taking from a young boy the joy of being a child… the joy of running through the streets of this very lovely neighborhood that is decorated now with pumpkins and ghosts and graveyards because that is the type of neighborhood in which he lives. He has been made too frightened to knock on the doors of his neighbors to get his treats, to integrate with his community, to run screaming around like any other kid on the inevitable sugar high that is Halloween, and it makes perfect sense, his fear.
This is the message society is giving him by making him mask up like he’s in an infectious disease ward every single weekday or whenever he goes with his mother to the grocery store, and that’s not harmless. It makes me angry, actually, and profoundly, deeply sad.
When we look back at this pandemic in the future, I wonder what sort of scars will still exist in the psyche of a whole generation of Americans who are being taught at the most impressionable of ages that staying away from others and hiding from the Monster is how one lives a healthy life.
We are sacrificing children to the Monster, tossing them into its gaping maw, and that should be truly terrifying for anyone who cares about the country.Published in