Notes from the new normal
"The old custom of shaking hands fell into disuse."
The line comes from Philadelphia in the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. No hand sanitizer was available. The city was the nation's capital. Many, like Thomas Jefferson, fled. In all my history books, that simple snippet ran right up to the present tense.
And we are tense as ever. In the privacy of our homes. Which makes the waiting worse, in a way, for the worst to come.
Working from home is not all it's cracked up to be. Especially for extroverts, the shutdown of social contact is a psychic punishment. Our families are great, except when everybody's shuttered in 24/7.
"Social distancing" was, two weeks ago, a phrase known only to experts. How quickly life changed. "Nothing to do, nowhere to go," my schoolteacher sister said, missing coffee and meditation rituals. We seek to structure long days.
The nation is braced for calamity, awakened to the world's coronavirus contagion on our shores. America's usually the lucky child of history. We've always felt protected by our oceans.
Yet the new coronavirus crossing over from China and international cruise ships was clear to see -- for those few looking. It knows no borders and respects no leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is proof of that.
America is not immune to the world. We're all connected in "a single garment of destiny," as Martin Luther King Jr. wrote.
So President Donald Trump's "America first" braggadocio was laid low. Still, he's inescapable; a dim grasp of science is no surprise. His contradictory words to the nation on COVID-19, or the "Chinese virus," set off another contagion: fear.
Ironically, the pandemic is loosening his grip on power at a critical moment. Five Republican senators are under quarantine.