In Extremis

I write this on March 23d, on the heels of an announcement made in my state: all non-essential personnel are now mandated to stay home in order to decrease how overwhelmed the medical field is going to get as a result of this virus. For certain occupations, where it is already possible to work from home, it simply means a shift from an on-site office to a makeshift one in a bedroom or den or basement. For many others, especially those paid hourly, it instead means getting temporarily laid off, filing for unemployment, hoping that it goes through quickly, hoping that you qualify, hoping that it’ll be enough.

This is a state-wide mandate, but if not all states are issuing the same orders, they will be soon. In the face of this crisis, I can only say that I have been amazed at the response of people both local and state-wide. It is a sobering thing, and perhaps people are right to be frightened. For the common person, who knows little of viruses or of their history, perhaps it’s no wonder that people jump to apocalyptic presumptions. Even so, it seems that for every person that felt the need to hoard toilet paper or milk or sanitizers, there has been someone else thinking selflessly. I know from my retail job that so many companies took initiative to keep their personnel at home even before the mandate. In local communities, people are volunteering and donating where and what they can to make sure those who will be hit the hardest don’t have to weather as fierce a blow. State-wide, despite a lack of federal directive, governors and those working with them have been doing their best to listen to doctors and do what’s best for the people they’re meant to take care of.

That being said, optimism can only get us so far. These actions are commendable because they look at the greater picture, and that means we cannot ignore those who will struggle the most. Our unemployment benefits system was not designed to handle this sudden wave of need, and unfortunately, many of the people who really need these benefits don’t have much in the way of savings to push them through the waiting period. That might make it difficult to pay for groceries or rent or other necessities. Perhaps these difficulties can be borne for a short while, even then; compassion leads to food drives and lease-owners giving a grace period for rent. Who can say, though, how long they might have to wait for benefits, or even if they qualify.

I say this not to set sparks in a droughted forest, but to ensure the implications are understood, and to ask a favor. In these times, we hear of other people doing good, and it can be a relief to see other people doing what needs to be done, acting responsibly. Yet it cannot be enough. We must all recognize that this is a community effort, to minimize the number of people both affected by the covid-19 virus and by the measures we’re taking to minimize those affected by the former.

“The universe shows its true face when it asks for help. We show ours by how we respond.”

Doctor Who season 10 episode 6, “Oxygen”

Fictional or not, the Doctor has spoken some memorable, poignant lines, and for those unfamiliar with the show, I feel I must share them now. After all, as I have said in a recent blog post, the stories we tell and the stories we read have a multitude of functions, not the least of which is to understand what it means to be human even in the darkest of times.

One of my favorite quotes is thus:

“Only in darkness are we revealed. Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.”

Doctor Who season 10 episode 6, “Extremis”

We are not in our final hour, yet, not by far, but as we decide how to go about our days, what decisions we make, how compassionate we are… these are the actions that will save us from such a place. Of all the messages that Doctor Who would have us take away, the biggest one would be to just be kind. No matter how much it may cost us, for in truth, it’s when it does cost us something that we show our true selves. Never cruel, never cowardly. Just kind.

And with that, I’ll leave you for now, wishing you well and hoping for the best.


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