Today’s wifi password in the Virgin lounge I am sitting in has just been handed around.
Here it is:
Wonder if they’re just being cheeky. Because obviously very few people do. Feel good flying, I mean. I assume I will get a couple of seats to myself. More than a couple. A chance to spread my legs without spreading a virus.
The airport is pretty empty. More than pretty empty. On any other day it would feel like a dream. Didn’t even need to use the priority desk. Perhaps it still does feel like a dream. Perhaps more like a dream. Even the gold lounge music is somehow more somnambulant than usual. A whole bank of lounge seats to myself. Probably the same on the plane.
We are truly in the “delete everything that is not necessary” category of life at the moment, and that includes flying. We’re finding out just how stripped back we can go. How much fat is on the bones. The answer is, probably a lot more than we even think now.
My Uber driver was a Sikh. I asked him how things are going in Punjab. He said they have bigger issues to deal with at the moment. They have bigger issues to deal with all of the time. Our necessities are already their luxuries.
Deleting all that is not necessary seems easy at the start of the process. We trim a bit here and a bit there. We bulk buy something we had assumed would be the in shops when we wanted it. We laugh and giggle about certain things. I find myself reaching for the floor cloth to wipe up a spill rather than a piece of kitchen towel.
But I check that larder just in case. How much flour is in there? Way more than I’ve ever had there before. If Elisha the prophet came to our place and offered us flour and oil until the virus is over I’d be like “No thanks, we’ve got this.”
Which is part of our problem. We’re so damned – and I mean that word – self sufficient. We’ve always got this. Collectively we have said:
“I will pull down my barns and build bigger. Or I’ll renovate the one I have and do an addition. I will say, ‘Soul, you have laid up many things for years. Take your ease; eat, drink and be merry.”
God hasn’t exactly required our souls tonight because of it, not yet at least. But there’s a chance He does consider us fools for doing so.
As I said in a previous post, we are experiencing a mini-apocalypse, a minor revelation about ourselves. And it’s not completely pretty.
In a fantastic piece in The New York Times, Pandemics Kill Compassion Too, columnist David Brooks explores the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic that killed 675, 000 Americans. And he observes that even despite imploring pleas by city officials for help to look after sick children, the vast majority of the population ignored external needs and bunkered down.
That’s right, 102 years before Trump, the one who supposedly imposed our values upon us; decades before late modernity and all its ennui; long before the collapse of the churches; and just prior at the end of the Great War, the supposedly better generation was just like us.
This explains one of the puzzling features of the 1918 pandemic. When it was over, people didn’t talk about it. There were very few books or plays written about it. Roughly 675,000 Americans lost their lives to the flu, compared with 53,000 in battle in World War I, and yet it left almost no conscious cultural mark.
Perhaps it’s because people didn’t like who they had become. It was a shameful memory and therefore suppressed. In her 1976 dissertation, “A Cruel Wind,” Dorothy Ann Pettit argues that the 1918 flu pandemic contributed to a kind of spiritual torpor afterward. People emerged from it physically and spiritually fatigued. The flu, Pettit writes, had a sobering and disillusioning effect on the national spirit.
Brooks article is on the money.
Take that statement: “Perhaps it’s because people didn’t like who they had become.”
That’s not quite right. I’d put it like this:
“Perhaps it’s because people didn’t like who they had been revealed to be.”
We don’t become what we are not when there is an apocalypse. Simply because the word “apocalypse” means to reveal. And apocalypses reveal us! The Walking Dead is a prime example of the end of that revelatory trajectory. Never mind the zombies, it’s the humans who are most revealed as dangerous and desperate. Or noble and sacrificial.
Hollywood constantly gives us the impression that during the crisis the flaky, ropey dude who acts like the good time boy, and who can’t get his act together, will suddenly get all noble and do amazing, sacrificial and heroic acts.
No he won’t. He’ll push past that woman into the lifeboat. He’ll keep playing the “everyman for himself” game. He will fail at all of the critical points. Why? Because he is being revealed in the apocalyptic moment for who he actually is.
Just remember the saying:
You can’t take out of the bank what you haven’t put in.
Sure, this crisis might bankrupt more than a few companies. More than a few countries! Many countries will prove, by their collapse, to be living on credit that they cannot repay.
But it will also show up any bankruptcy in us that is already there. Perhaps too many of us having been living off the credit of an assumed past. A national identity that is less true than we’d hoped, and more fragile than we’d feared. And we won’t be able to take out of the moral bank what’s not already there.
It’s early days in Australia. So we shall see. And we may even keep ahead of that curve and flatten it out completely. Or it may swamp us like a tsunami.
Either way we’ve been given the glimpse into what we are truly like.
Feelgoodflying? Not sure I do.