Way back in his early Cold War folk music period Bob Dylan had a song we quite liked called “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” and we’ve been reminded of it lately. The lyrics tell how Dylan had a dream he was the only survivor of a nuclear armaggedon, then went to a psychiatrist who told him “I’ve been having the same old dream, but mine’s a little different don’t you see, I dreamt the only person left after the war was me, and you weren’t around nowhere.”
What brings it to mind is a couple of clearly coronavirus-inspired dreams we’ve had lately, which we read is a common thing these days, and also the crowds who have lately been taking to the streets to lately to protest the shutdowns and social distancing measures that state governments have imposed to slow the spread of the disease. They seem quite confident that they’re going not going to get sick or die, and callously blithe about those who will.
It’s an understandable human impulse. Having survived the swine flu and bird flue and SARS and Ebola and other plagues we’re also pretty cocksure about outlasting this one, just as we’d dodged enough tornadoes here on the plains to be unafraid of them until we took a direct his above ground from an F4 one day and found the company car we’d been driving upside-down a block-and-a-half from where we’d parked it, and we’re also eager to get back to church and Kirby’s Beer Store and business as usual. We also share the protestors’ instinctive aversion to being told what to do by bossy governments.
The older we get the less invincible we feel, though, and the more we appreciate that a certain amount of luck and a certain amount of government are necessary to get by in this imperfect world. Even in the best of times there are good reasons for those stop signs and speed limits and other restrictions of liberty as well the cops that glare at you from behind mirrored sunglasses as they write a ticket. We’re old enough to have heard our parents’s childhood stories about the rationing cards and other government impositions on the populace that occurred during World War II, and how hoarders were shunned by their neighbors, and stories from our grandparents about people only venturing outside wearing face masks during the Spanish Influenza epidemic, and figure that even in such a ferociously freedom-loving land such as this there are occasionally drastic situations that call for drastic measures.
Americans should insist that when we this crisis passes they should regain all the liberties they enjoyed before, and be suspicious of any attempts by inherently bossy governments to permanently retain their temporary powers, but until then we’ll do our best to follow the rules. We hope it’s sooner rather later, and although it looks to be a long while in large part of the federal government’s slow and clumsy response, but we’ll give it a while. All the gas rationing and bacon grease and scrap metal collecting and occasional coastal blackouts of World War II lasted four long years, and when people discarded their face masks and gathered in large crowds after decline in infections to celebrate victory in World War I here was a second and even deadlier wave of Spanish Influenza.
All the shutdowns and social distancing have had a catastrophic effect on the economy, and we well know how onerous they are for even for those who still have a job, but for now they seem the sort of sacrifices previous generations made to pass along a still-great nation. Maybe it’s just the hard-earned apathy of a fatalistic 60-year-old more than any patriotic spirit, but staying at home and sleeping 10 hours a day and watching a lot of Netflix and keeping up with our friends through Facebook and posting our daily bitches and moans about Trump on the internet seems the least we can do to honor our what our forebears put up with for us.
This can’t go on forever, of course, but so far nothing has except for life itself. We’d like to see life’s streak continue, and it will be hard to say when that moment comes when it has to get back to normal. That’s going to require some hard data we’re not yet getting and the expertise of scientists who are now being widely ignored, and a measure of prudence and patience that a large chunk of the populace and the President of the United States don’t seem to possess. We trust that most of our fellow citizens will come out when they damned well feel it’s safe to do so, no matter what Trump and his Confederate-flag-waving supporters who have been blocking ambulance traffic say.
Mostly, we hope that as a nation we will somehow grope our way toward whatever works out best for everybody, even if it doesn’t work out best for us. As good old Bob Dylan put it, “Time passed, and now it seems, everybody’s havin’ them dreams, everybody’s seein’ themselves walking around with nobody else … I’ll let you be in my dream if you’ll let me be in yours.”
— Bud Norman