Drums in the Deep: Waiting for the Worst
Millions of Americans have been told to stay home to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Now we wait for the oncoming storm.
“We have barred the gates but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes…drums, drums in the deep.”- Gandalf, Lord of the Rings
So much has changed in a week.
Millions of Americans are under orders to stay at home, and all non-essential businesses have shuttered their doors. Once busy streets are now nearly empty save for families taking their children out for walks.
It wasn’t so long ago that this was unimaginable. Now it feels risky for it not to be this way. We call our friends and family more than we ever have before, just trying to maintain contact.
It’s hard to put down our phones or shut down our computers. Every few hours, the number of infections goes up and surprises us with its rapidity. In only a week, we’ve gone from 10,000 to 30,000. The all-important death toll, still low and providing some hope for our victory, is increasing too and is just now getting to that scary point where we’ll go from 10’s to 100’s to God knows what.
Frequent hand washing leaves our knuckles dry and cracked, but we do it anyway. The grocery store has a person out front squirting a small amount of hand sanitizer into our hands before we’re allowed to go in the store. The shelves in some areas are returning to normal, but burdensome anxiety fills each aisle.
The President — predictably — has fallen short on his promises from just a week ago. Testing is still hard to come by; the website is unlikely to come to fruition, and states and cities have taken on the responsibility for their citizens in lieu of any leadership from the Federal government.
Trump prefers to be a boisterous bystander, too consumed with his own pettiness and political games to lend anything but occasional federal dollars and empty promises.
A lot of people hate the unctuous liberal leadership in our nation’s largest states and cities. They were the first ones to send people home and close businesses, despite the inevitable economic fallout.
But I would hate to live in a state where leaders waste valuable time arguing about conspiracy theories or who deserves what protections when a crisis is so clearly on our doorstep.
The irony of all our social distancing measures is that it will seem like an overreaction if it works.
But we don’t know what awaits us or if any of it matters. If the spiking unemployment, the anxiety, the money being spent, will prove worth it. In Italy, we see the death and despair that awaits a country that fails to act, but we won’t know for a few more weeks if we have done enough to avoid it.
All we can do is bide our time and watch the numbers tick up with relativistic speed.
J.R.R. Tolkien, like many authors of his generation, lived through a time of great anxiety and death. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic coincided with the first World War, killing millions of young men and women.
The Lord of the Rings bears this mark throughout. Frodo and his companions were ordinary people who were torn from their normal lives and thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Tolkien wrote from experience, having fought in the hellish trenches of the Western Front. He knew how much life could be changed by unimaginable circumstances. “By 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead,” he said of the war.
We are not being asked to fight in the trenches or even to risk our lives, only to help in the way that we can. We shouldn’t be sad that we are in this situation or fear things out of our control. Our only choice is to live up to the times that we find ourselves in.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”