April 15, 2020
“You better not cost me five thousand on this.”
Interrupting my judgement-free workspace, a neighbor has suddenly thrown open his second-story bedroom windows to have a grumpy business call about yucky stocks and bonds with a Bluetooth headset. As I looked up to the source of the noise, he began clipping his toenails, out of his window, onto the roof.
“Sheesh, wouldn’t you think those guys would be able to just do it online?”
“The crows are taking over,” someone on the street chimes in, on a different wireless call, as my roommate waters the lawn in his shorts, having his own handsfree chit chat.
My mother called today, from Yorkshire, and she told me that the COVID-19 death toll in the UK was past 10,000. Later on, I looked up the top news stories for the house’s ten Model UN countries. Most of the headlines were about the coronavirus, and the richer the country the more specific the headlines, such as “Australia PM Slams Trump for Being Literally the Worst,” whereas when I typed in “Chad news,” the first two were about the deceased wife of someone named ‘Chad,’ and the third was about the death of 1,000 Boko Haram fighters at Lake Chad, reported this week after the Chadian government seized thirty motorized canoes.
There is a lot of death around in the world right now, the same and more, and I try not to ignore it. There are small things to do to be earnestly mindful about the suffering: quarantining vigorously, checking in on the grandmotherly, clapping at 7:00 when the nurses change shifts, saying “NO” to butt-smuggling toilet paper out of Whole Foods.
But, in my trying to be mindful and informed as to the dire conflicts of resources and war that are entangled with my life, I wonder why it is so important to me that I know about everything. There is definitely a civic responsibility not to close one’s eyes, but when all the world’s suffering is hidden behind an empty, blinking cursor in a Google search bar, how do you choose what to keep handy in the drafty back of your mind?
I have some perplexing guilt around not being able be everyone’s emotional pillar, everyone’s savior. I didn’t really want someone like that when my Dad died; I wanted to be someone like that because my father died. I wanted to be special, important, a big hot shot with a cold pot of daddy’s ashes who could guide you through your misery clean to the other side. I wanted my father’s death, the pain, to mean that I could alleviate that of others, balance out the scales of suffering by making my father’s agony be the cause to a tremendous effect of healing.
But I didn’t get to be that person, a hero to one of my friends, and I don’t think I will be. It might be because friends are for support and not vigilante emotional labor, and it might be because I haven’t met anyone who wants me to be a hero, and it might be because I already missed the person who needed that. But mostly it’s because being a hero was not going to make my Dad’s pain hurt less, sting less, be more about living and less about dying; it was not up to me to define how my Dad’s pain would flow through me and affect the world, affect anything, anyone.
If I prayed, I would pray for humility, but I don’t, so here’s this: have a nice moment, and thanks for reading this while you clip your toenails.