by Barb Gordon-Kessel, 06/30/2020, Traverse City, MI
I wake up to week four of Michigan’s coronavirus shutdown with a startling revelation, I want to go to Disney World. Inexplicably, I crave crying babies, their crabby parents, annoyingly perky park attendants, and a good gnaw on the ultimate caveman cuisine – a hormone inflated turkey drumstick. Twenty years ago, I swore off theme park lines, never-ending parades, and the human-on-human humidity of summer music festivals. The coronavirus lockdown appears custom made for my hermit tendencies. My urge to plunge into a theme park of people is an enigma.
It is late April, the weather teetering between winter and spring, a topic I discuss with my fuzzy four-legged work mates, Mozy and Mimi. Our trio is way ahead of the coronavirus containment curve – me, working from my home office for nearly a decade now, while MoMi (their canine couple name) cover security and stress management. Compared to residents of Detroit, New York City, and New Orleans, I live in a relative state of normalcy. In northern Michigan, cases barely stretch into double digits. Personally, I know of no one who has contracted the virus. For me, it’s a pretty low-stress pandemic. But when Governor Whitmer extends the stay at home order beyond the end of April, something shifts. I want to go to Disney World, not for the college kid turned cartoon character, or the stomach drop of a rollercoaster ride, not even to nibble Mickey Mouse’s chocolate ear as ice cream melts down my arm. I realize that, despite my affinity for being alone, I miss the eclectic collection of people called humankind.
It’s a small world, after all. When I was twelve, my grandmother, bless her heart, took me to California’s Disneyland where we floated through the attraction, “A Small World.” Later, as a parent hell-bent on creating Disney magic for my young daughters, this ride’s dark tunnel provided cool respite for a quick nap. But at twelve, I was fascinated as Disney’s groundbreaking audio-anitronomic technology triggered figures representing all corners of the world, each carrying forward the ear-worming song, “It’s a Small World” in their native language. For the first time, I consciously acknowledged the intrinsic value of the world’s human rainbow. I felt a shiver of excitement, discovering something bigger than myself, adopting a new lens for my life. Why then, more than forty years later, as the coronavirus casts its web around the world, do I notice the creep of humankind’s dark shadow?
As the pandemic progresses, loss is recorded on a personal level – a mother, a spouse, a best friend. As well as a global level – more than half a million deaths and counting. We fret over the economic forecast and the precariousness of our own pocketbook. And, we hold our breath, as a global recession steps into closer view.
But the loss I feel runs deeper. It is the erosion of our humanity, the extinction of global goodwill and empathy. The POTUS, like an ill-raised schoolboy, refers to the virus as “Kung Flu,” then bullies foreign and international healthcare organizations, and puts himself first – not America – downplaying the virus and curtailing the government’s response. How many more lives were lost?
I’m shocked, then embarrassed, as national news outlets feature camo-clad armed militia protesting alongside angry Michigan residents at the state capital. Somehow, saving lives has twisted into a “communist” assault on democratic rights. I am horrified at the hate slung across a news station’s Facebook page during a live update on the state’s emergency response. One comment feeds off another, raising the level of vitriol until I see someone refer to the governor as “Hitler” and I close the page. Within my own family, a man with the unwelcome job of reminding patrons of the store’s mask requirement, is likened to Germany’s wartime “SS” police. At dinner, over the phone, on social media, their nasty comments and disrespect for officials acting in the public’s best interest makes my skin crawl.
Just as I think I’m beyond shock, the president, eager to overcome the economic crisis triggered by the global pandemic, warps a better than expected jobs report into a beacon of racial equality. He invokes the name of George Floyd, eleven days after the black man’s senseless murder by a hate-fueled white cop. Now, President Trump, triumphant in his singular Fantasyland, says, “Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing … for our country. This is a great day for him …. This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
I try to hang on to the incredible sacrifice and perseverance of medical staff and other frontline workers around the globe. I hope their example is the beacon of humanity we can carry forward, letting go of our differences and remembering all that we share.
It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears.
It’s a world of hopes, a world of fears.
Just one moon, one golden sun.
A smile means friendship to every one.
Although mountains divide, and oceans are wide,
It’s a small world after all. *
*Adapted from “It’s a Small World” by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman