Kai Ryssdal, the host of NPR’s Marketplace, tweeted yesterday that he’s “having a hard time dealing with [his] increasing anger” over the damage that government inaction to suppress the coronavirus has had on his family. “I’m angry for my kids, whose critical days in high school and college are being squandered, and I’m angry for my mom, who, well … she’s not young and time only goes in one direction.” This after Trump casually suggested that if you ignored the blue states, his administration’s success in fighting the coronavirus was fantastic. (Of course, that is not only completely bonkers, it is completely untrue).
After nearly seven months of stoicism, Ryssdal’s tweet made me tear up last night, muffling sobs on my living room couch near midnight, trying not to worry my husband, who has enough to worry about. We learned yesterday that the nodules on his thyroid are in fact cancerous, not just a fluke or a side effect of his immunotherapy treatment. As a result, he has to be removed from the clinical trial that has been so successful in treating the metastasis in his lungs. Luckily, we live in the bluest city of the bluest state, with the very best doctors in the world for his type of cancer immediately arranging for him to be in yet another clinical trial, this time one testing the efficacy of a vaccine injected directly into his tumors.
For all of us, not just for Kai’s mom, “time only goes in one direction.” Were it not for COVID, Dan and I would take this opportunity between protocols to take a trip, probably to LA to see my very pregnant daughter, or maybe someplace with a white sand beach and warm teal water and umbrella drinks. But of course, that won’t happen. We can’t even go out to dinner at our favorite restaurant. On the bright side, in New York City virtually everyone wears a mask and follows social distancing rules, so at least we can go to the grocery store without incident, something that might be much more risky in red states with active coronavirus cases and a viral overload of anti-maskers.
I’m beyond anger. I just have a terrible, penetrating, deep in my gut sadness. For Dan and for myself and for so many others who see valuable days of their lives being squandered by our government’s failure to care more about us than the stock market. Sadness for my fellow unmasked citizens who have “declared their freedom” by going to parties, weddings, bars, or malls, endangering themselves, their neighbors, strangers. Sadness for the children who cannot go to school, who cannot visit grandma, who do not have enough to eat because their caregivers have lost their jobs. Sadness for the people who are spending their last days alone, away from loved ones.
Most of all, I feel profound sadness as I watch the unraveling of the country I have studied, taught about, worried over, tried to hold to account, protested, but still loved — fiercely — for seven decades. I’ve had to learn to live with metastasis, because every cell in Dan’s body is still Dan, whether benign or malignant. Now I am learning to live with metastasis in the body politic.
Doctors are scrambling to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, but also to cure the tumors that are playing whack-a-mole in Dan’s body. Who is working on the vaccine to cure the cancerous growth of selfishness, greed, “what aboutism” and “alternative facts?” Authoritarianism is spreading throughout the body politic not by disabling T-cells as in Dan’s case, but by enabling Q cells. What is the immunotherapy for that? Trump’s malapropism, misspeaking “herd mentality” for “herd immunity” is actually the perfect description of the malignancy that has gone viral in a significant segment of the population.
Thinking about all of this last night I suppressed my sobs and wiped my nose. My very concerned doggo watched for a minute, then raced to his braided, mauled, yellow rope toy, carrying it to the couch in his maw, his bright dark eyes telling me that he was worried about me, that he knew that something was wrong, and that the best way to fix it was to shake it off. He dropped the rope in my lap.
I stood up, holding one end and spinning the other just above his alert little face. Game on. Calculating his timing, he remained frozen until in a split second he reared and lunged, grabbing his end. We wrestled, he play growled, I play growled, we collapsed, he gently licked my tears away. I smiled, having shaken off the sadness, at least for a little while, alive in the moment, and grateful to be reminded to savor each chance to love and be loved.