We haven’t seen this movie before


Three weekends ago, we drove from New York to Baltimore to visit with family. We had planned this for awhile, but there was added urgency: knowing the world was about to change in a big way. Or in many big ways.

The hints were clear, from China and elsewhere: major steps would need to be taken—by people, businesses and governments—to slow the spread of a new virus against which there was yet no defense other than, mainly, hiding out. Not only were quarantines likely, but it was reasonable to suspect that whole sectors of the economy would be disabled.

Since then, all that has happened. And more.

On the drive down we also tried to guess, just among ourselves, about what would be the second, third and fourth order effects of, for example, shutting down retail,  education or other social and economic sectors. None of our guesses came close to what has happened since then, or what the full effects will be.

As of today, sports, live entertainment, conferences, travel, church, education, business, restaurants, and much more are closed, reduced, forbidden or sphinctered to trickles of activity. Levels of economic and social anesthesia, and degrees of personal freedom (and risk) differ widely by state, county and municipality. As for effects, however, it’s hard to see far beyond the obvious: domestic confinements, closed stores, empty streets, trucks still rolling down highways.

Two weeks ago today, a few days after that weekend, my wife and I relocated our butts to our house in Santa Barbara and haven’t left since then except for two quick trips to a market (by my wife) and daily long walks in the woods (by me). We are also working more than ever, it seems, mostly on our computers and phones. This Internet thing timed its existence well.

As for writing, a rule I generally fail to follow is the one Quakers have for silent meetings: “Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.” But what we have now, with this coronavirus pandemic, is the opposite of silence. I don’t know how to improve on that, so I’ll default for now to the Quaker option.

Leaders in business and government do need to speak up, of course. I hope you listen to them and make up your own mind about what they say. Meanwhile I’ll stick to sharing what I hope might be useful, inside my own communities. Also trying to get some work done in what I’m sure we can all agree is a very pivotal moment in world history.

Another thing we might be sure about is that there will be no end to books, movies and plays about this moment in time. I just hope it’ll be fun, in at least some ways, to look back on it.

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