What comes after COVID-19? I think it depends on what we load into our arks right now. We have all heard the Capital One ad, “What’s in your wallet?” Today, I’d ask, “What’s in your ark?”
As we struggle through the uncertainties of “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders, questions about the usefulness of masks or the accuracy of tests for virus or antibodies, disagreements about when it will be safe to “open up” again, and the endless search for hand sanitizer and toilet paper, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there will be a world that exists after this deluge, after this cataclysmic flood of disease and disruption.
There will be life after COVID-19, and it will be different in ways we cannot fully imagine. I recently said to a friend that I felt like we were all in our individual arks waiting for the waters to subside. But when I thought about it later, I realized that was wrong. Not everyone has an ark. Not everyone has a way to ride out the flood. Not everyone is going to make it to the other side.
As if the life-threatening virus weren’t enough, the scale of the financial disruption caused by the COVID-19 emergency and actions to control it is mind-boggling. It is harder to keep up with unemployment numbers than with numbers of people infected with COVID-19. People who live paycheck to paycheck have, in many cases, not had paychecks for a long time. Some of them line up in auto queues miles long to get groceries from food banks. They struggle for days to complete applications for unemployment insurance on overloaded websites. They try to figure out how to pay the mortgage or the rent with no income.
And the financial stress exists for organizations as well as individuals. Restaurants and retail businesses are closed but still have expenses to pay. Nonprofit organizations that depend on donations are seeing their income streams slow to a trickle. Educational institutions are wondering how they can continue programs in the face of restrictions on in-person instruction. Small presses try to find a way to promote new authors without the traditional book tours and public readings they have used in the past. Museums, concert halls, and theaters lock their doors and lay off their staff. Farms that usually sell to restaurants or processing plants have no market for their goods. Not all of these organizations will survive the COVID-19 emergency. Not all of them will be there when this is over.
It has been proposed that the COVID-19 pandemic is an “apocalypse” in the original sense of the Greek term– something that uncovers or reveals things that have been hidden. The structural inequalities and injustices revealed can fill another blog post – or dozens of them – but for now it suffices to say that one thing that has been clearly revealed is the difference between the “haves” and “have nots” in American society. Some of us find that we have an “ark”, or the wherewithal to build one, to ride out the flood. If we look around, we see that many others do not. So it seems to me that those of us who have the luxury of having our own personal “ark”–a place to live, a fairly stable income that has not been destroyed by COVID-19, or maybe some savings to tide us over–are going to have to take the people and organizations we care about onto our own ark to give them a chance to survive. And we’ll have to do it now–“after this is over” will be too late.
I’ve been thinking about who I need to try to bring onto my ark and how I can do it. The little Greek and Italian restaurant down the street–the neighborhood wouldn’t be the same without it! I need to order takeout more than ever now if I want the restaurant to be around long enough to open up again. Organizations that I have supported for years that help people have a place to live, food to eat, legal representation, and medical care–I’ll need to increase my donations to make up for those that are lost because other donors have lost jobs. Of course, the rescue organization that gave me my two sweet feline companions– I’m sure there are still feral cats and kittens looking for a home, but their donations may be down. And some young folks I know who have lost their income could probably use a cash gift to stay afloat–I don’t expect they would tell me, so I’ll have to ask them or just make an early Christmas gift. The tenants in my rental properties–they could probably use a rent holiday in April and May. . . and maybe June too. The farm couple who used to have an organic CSA but recently were selling at farmers’ markets, now all closed–we’d better order boxes to be delivered. My ark isn’t huge, but I can make space for a few guests.
And because injustice is one thing that will probably have no trouble surviving the COVID-19 emergency, I’ll want the Quixote Center to be there on the other side, so they’re on my ark too. No one can know for sure what the future will look like, but I doubt the landscape will be changed for the better. Haiti and Nicaragua will still have the lowest per capita incomes in the Western Hemisphere, with lack of housing and food insecurity as major problems. Migrants and refugees will still face danger, desperate need, and a sometimes harsh receptions as they make their way to the freedom and security they hope to find in the United States or elsewhere. And institutionalized injustices in our own country will still be crying out for change. Yes, I had better find room on the ark for some knights errant–I wouldn’t want the species to become extinct.
How are you surviving this flood? If your own personal ark has developed some leaks on the rocks of the economy lately, please let people who care about you know. There will be ark repairs available or invitations onto ark accommodations of a friend if someone knows you need them. On the other hand, if your ark is sound and has some space available, have you decided who you are inviting to come on and ride out the flood with you? Give it some thought soon, because the water’s rising.
Nancy Sulfridge is the board president for Quixote Center and works in adult education in Southern Maryland.