By Leah S. Dunaief
Do you feel like you are living in the “twilight zone”? Our current world would make a riveting episode for Rod Serling’s 1960s television series. Here is an example of life imitating art, with our deserted village streets, our closed schools and our shuttered shops. Only residents popping out of restaurants with takeout orders offer signs of normalcy. I keep pinching myself, but nothing changes. This is not a bad dream. This is real.
What to do besides washing our hands? Don’t know about yours, but mine are already chapped from my conscientious response.
For starters, those not in essential businesses or services are asked to stay home. What has been deemed “essential” is interesting: pharmacies, restaurants — takeout only, gas stations, banks and liquor stores. Although we are not on the list, we journalists consider ourselves committed to providing factual information for our communities during these unprecedented times, and we remain at our posts although in a somewhat reduced number to honor the new phrase “social distancing.” For more about how we are functioning, please read the adjacent editorial. We are dedicated to bringing you a regular dispassionate update on the website and of course in the newspapers.
Certainly don’t check on the value of your stocks if you own any. Better to leave your 401K and IRA out of sight for now. No need to heighten the hysteria. And how long can we bemoan lost work hours, disappearing paychecks or sales revenues that have evaporated, even as our expenses continue unabated? For whatever consolation it may offer, we are all in this together, which means rules will be adjusted.
The federal government has made some pledges of emergency cash, perhaps within two weeks, to keep the wolf from the door. There may even be subsequent payments. The infusion of such cash should stimulate the economy albeit briefly because it would probably be immediately spent. But for most families, it won’t go that far, which is frightening. Surveys have shown that four out of 10 Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 emergency expense without borrowing. Since the Federal Reserve has dropped rates close to zero, it is almost painless but always dangerous to borrow. Or perhaps it is an opportunity to renegotiate a loan or mortgage?
It is easy to be afraid. Society, as we have known it, is being altered — by government officials urging us not to touch or even be near each other. We can’t send our children to school, and now child care becomes a huge headache. But perhaps it won’t be because we may not go to work either. At least we can take care of the children. We are advised to maintain in our homes the same sort of schedule as the children follow at school: study hours, physical activity, playtime. More time with our families may be a blessing in disguise. Consider that we are being isolated from each other in the age of the internet, which means access to unlimited educational and recreational sources. The idea of learning remotely and working remotely is now going to be put to the test. There could be opportunity here.
I know this is tough to hear, but being upset doesn’t help anything. If we can calm down and manage the things we do have control over while we wait for the uncontrollable to settle down, we will have a good action plan to see us through these “interesting times.” There are, after all, closets to clean, desk drawers to sort, new recipes to try, books to finally read, movies to watch — even binge on if you have a series like “The Crown,” pleasurable moments to enjoy with family and the certitude that this, too, shall pass.
This is the time that the Earth slowed down. The frenzy of everyday life is gone. Appointments, lessons, carpools, timelines, plans are all put on hold temporarily. It is a time for us to slow down, too, take some deep breaths, perhaps permit ourselves a nap in the afternoon. The tide has gone out and we can’t pull it back. But it will return on its own and just as strong.
Of one thing we can be sure: There will be a baby boom in nine months.