Natural Disasters aren’t Supposed to be Pleasant

I know this is a silly title, but I’m genuinely concerned that a large number of people out there might not fully understand the concept of a disaster. They just don’t seem to get that major historical events like novel plagues are inherently inconvenient, and that living through them (or not living through them, as the case may be) sucks ass. These folks seem bizarrely indignant at the idea that a worldwide pandemic should affect them in any way. They also seem deeply annoyed that it just… Keeps happening. It’s one thing, apparently, to interrupt their busy schedules for a few weeks, but they just can’t be bothered to keep dealing with an uncomfortable reality in the long run. They’re really losing patience with all these efforts to prevent further death and destruction, and they express it in the strangest of ways.

For example, I have heard with my own two ears, and seen with my own two eyes, grown-ass people saying shit like: “You can’t live in fear.”

I am here to inform you that you absolutely can live in fear, particularly when there is something very real to be afraid of. That’s exactly what fear is for. It is a useful and appropriate response to danger. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have it baked into the very cores of our highly sophisticated head-bacon. Fear is so effective at keeping organisms alive, in fact, that nature probably went a little overboard with it, because being a perpetually anxious rabbit with some bald patches from nervous over-grooming is way better, from an evolutionary standpoint, than being a confident rabbit with a sleek and fluffy coat who doesn’t think wolves look all that tough.

Being afraid and/or anxious is a healthy response to danger, and pandemics are dangerous. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

Another reaction I’ve been seeing that deeply baffles me is: “Well, you can’t just let life grind to a halt.”

Once again: Yes, you absofuckinglutely can. Normal life cannot just go on in an area affected by a natural disaster. If life can continue unaffected, pretty much by definition, there is no disaster. In this case, the whole world is being affected by this disaster, and it is particularly bad in the United States.

Normal life cannot just go on, and the expectation that it should do so is causing a secondary plague of mental illness beyond anything I could have previously imagined. People are tearing themselves to shreds trying to keep up the appearance and productivity of normal life under extremely abnormal circumstances, and it is horrifying. It is breaking people. Good, kind, generous people are currently being crushed under the absolutely inhumane expectation that life should just go on right now.

Not only that, but this response in particular seems to show a total lack of awareness that delayed gratification does exactly what it says on the tin. It is delayed, not canceled. Very young children are expected to struggle with the concept of putting something fun off for a later date – because later truly does feel like forever when you’re five years old – but the average adult is generally expected to have had enough experience to understand.

For those who have apparently missed this fairly vital step toward maturity, here’s the deal: We have to wait. We don’t know exactly how long, because some things are beyond human control and because a lot of people have already behaved very badly and made it all worse. Probably, at this point, another six months to a year. If we wait, and we don’t go about our business as usual, then we all get to hug and kiss and play as much as we want. If we don’t wait, and quite a few of you already haven’t, some of those people we want to hug and kiss and play with will probably die.

That’s it. That’s reality. They’ll die.

Or, you might die.

You could also live, but survival doesn’t necessarily mean you go unscathed. You might live with permanent damage to your lungs that makes every breath a painful struggle. You might live and spend the rest of your life feeling exhausted and weak. You might live with permanent neurological damage. You might live and suddenly have a stroke a while later, because of a case of covid19 that you barely even noticed at the time. You might even live long enough to develop a conscience, which would honestly suck for you if you’re behaving like an ass right now, because there won’t be anything you can do about it by then.

This isn’t a plea for decency, because we’re kind of beyond that. It’s more of an observation. It’s an exploration. It’s a rant. If I weren’t so incredibly numb to the horror right now, I’d be screaming, because this is all so goddamned awful. The direct risk of covid19 is bad enough, but then there’s this highly unpleasant realization that I just keep coming back around to.

There are people around us all, people who we love and trust and spend our care on, who themselves care so little about the rest of us that they refuse to educate themselves about and follow the most basic of precautions during the most deadly and widespread pandemic in living memory.

A gloomy tree silhouetted against a gray sky.