My last birthday before the war

Yesterday was 17 March 2020, my 28th birthday. I spent it with my husband and my sister. In the evening when we sat down to dinner together, I saw everything about that moment through the lens of history. In 10 or 20 years, how would we remember this night? Would it be the last time we saw each other in months? Would it be “the good ol’ days before the world changed forever”? I felt compelled to take a photo of Jacob and Julia at that little dining table in her Atlanta studio apartment. “I want to take a picture of this, just as it is,” I explained. “It’s for my war scrapbook”. They rolled their eyes but complied.

I have lived such a safe, privileged life. For years I had a countdown on my phone marking my 10,000th day alive (3 August 2019). When that day arrived, I thought, this is amazing. I have lived a 10,000-day streak of life with no tragedies. Never has someone very close to me died or been in a major accident. Never have I been in danger of living in poverty or having any of my physical needs not be met. There have been several ‘crises’ in my lifetime (September 11th, the 2008 financial crisis, so many hurricanes, etc.) but none of them affected my everyday activities. I was always able to go to school and enjoy life and walk around without fear that my safety was at stake. In stark contrast to my idyllic existence, history is filled with stories of tragedy and danger. War, famine, societal collapse. These are not uncommon in our world. I have always wondered when it would happen to me.

As of this writing, there are just over 7000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the USA (but we haven’t been testing a lot of people so who the heck knows how many cases there actually are) and 100 confirmed deaths. Admittedly, relatively low numbers. But we have all seen the statistics. I understand the shape of an exponential curve. I’m not here to write about all of the factors that are making this a worldwide concern, I’m just here to write about what it feels like to me. Virologists and epidemiologists knew this was coming. Governments around the world are instituting mandatory lockdowns/shelter-in-place guidelines, and considering enacting some form of martial law. It hasn’t happened here in Atlanta yet, but it has in New York and California.

There are so many questions right now. How will society continue to function with everyone staying in their homes and not going out? The economy has all but evaporated in the last week; all events of every sort are canceled. The DOW is losing thousands of points a day. I was looking for a job before all this went down, and now I know I won’t be employed any time soon. Huge swaths of the world population are facing unemployment while everything is paused. How will we get the resources we need? What will happen to the supply chains of food, medicine, and other essentials?

Some people are not nearly as nervous or concerned as I am about what is about to unfold. My sister Julia is studying macroeconomics and public health. She believes this will blow over with (relatively) little impact. My husband Jacob is still going to work at this time, he is a chef at a restaurant down in the city, and although they are not serving customers in the dining room, they are still doing pickup orders. Jacob already likes to live a rather socially isolated life on a normal basis, he just goes to work and comes home and chats with friends online. So besides the fact that traffic is lighter and the restaurant isn’t filled with customers, his life hasn’t been changed much yet. He is not bothered. Meanwhile, I have the TV on and am watching commercials that feature people enjoying sporting events and concerts; it seems like a cruel taunt. The fact that everyone is reacting differently to this pandemic makes me feel confused and guilty. Yesterday did we do the wrong thing by taking a walk in the park and visiting my sister? Of course I wanted to see my mother on my birthday, but I simply can’t visit with my parents right now.

Joking about the ‘impending war’ has been a common jest among young people for years. I know I really started thinking about it in 2014. This, however, is the first time I’ve felt it might be genuinely imminent. I have visions of people resorting to violence because they can’t afford/find food. I see soldiers guarding the streets making sure people don’t move around. I see food, water, and energy rations. I see field hospitals overwhelmed with sick and injured patients, I see so many deaths. These fears are NOT unfounded; as I stated earlier, these things happen all over the world. We have been extremely lucky in the United States, but we are not immune… pun intended.

Will my fears play out, or will this indeed all blow over? Time will tell. I will keep writing while this pandemic is part of the zeitgeist.

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