How to remain optimistic during a brutal and crushing pandemic? Let me start by saying I really can’t stand people who do not take this seriously. This is a major public health crisis, a national tragedy, really, and the numbers, when it is all done, will be staggering. Already there are more than 30,000 dead in America alone and our best guess is these numbers are a severe underestimation (when people are found dead in apartments, or before getting tested, they are generally not counted as coronavirus deaths). One study, in fact, found that the death rate — outside of coronavirus — is three times what it was in the same period last year (presumably many of the extra deaths are newer covid cases). There is also serious underreporting by governments around the world, possibly for political purposes — not just in China.
All this being said, the sky is not falling. Sometimes it can feel that way. A few weeks ago a German State Financial Minister killed himself over despair over coronavirus. As I’m a comedian, the joke I made on Facebook was, “you know it’s bad when Germans go from killing Jews to killing themselves.” But this wasn’t entirely a joke. It had a morsel of truth. Matters truly are bad. We may enter another Depression. And the American losses of life may well exceed that, when all is said and done, of WWI.
Still, to get to the point, by looking back at history, we can remember other struggles through which we have prevailed and retain a sense of optimism. Let’s start with The Spanish Flu (1917–1918), that, in total, killed 50–100 million people (see pic above). Those fortunate enough to survive this horrid public health crisis had to prevail through the Great Depression and WWII (where another 50–80 million died).
As if all this wasn’t enough, they had none of our modern conveniences. If you were alone, and wanted to be heard, you had to send a telegraph (forget Zoom). You couldn’t get on a plane and fly wherever you wanted, either, but had to rely upon trains for longer distance travel (that had none of our modern luxuries…certainly no WIFI). If you were lucky enough to have a car — or were visiting a new place — there was certainly no GPS when you got lost (good luck with paper maps/memory). There was no Skype, no Facebook, no Fresh Direct, no Amazon Prime, no iPads, no Beyondmeat, no electric vehicles and rockets to space.
Think of the records businesses had to keep manually and the difficulty sending documents without a fax or email. There was no teleconferencing or electronic data transfer; no way to easily backup files; no stock trading without a broker. Forget electric scooters, central air, robotic vaccum cleaners, n-95 masks, rolling luggage, and Peloton bikes. To keep cool most people opened the window, since air conditioning didn’t become common in homes till the 1950’s. What is more, Americans didn’t generally have refrigerators…they had ice boxes. Forget Uber…for the average person, we’re talking horse and buggy. The list goes on and on.
Today, we have a coronavirus that we believe kills 1–3% of those it infects. Not diminshing that. The numbers have already started to get large, recently topping 2 million infected and more than 150,000 dead. Still, there is hope for therapeutics and a vaccine on the horizon. Plus, there is all the biotechnology and scientific resources that are being directed night and day to solving this problem.
In sum, then, historically speaking, this is a walk in the park. The sky is not falling. The zombies are not about to takeover. We aren’t going to be making bongs out of each other’s hearts. There will not be gangs of armed madmen breaking into your home to steal all your toilet paper. Chill.
The best thing you can do, right now, is make the most of your quarantine. Crochet a blanket. Build a village out of sugar packets. Create a whacky painting. Whatever. It could be worse. When the madness ends, I hope to see you all on the other side.