I had a quiet meltdown last night. I felt alternately despairing and furious over all the death in the news. Music lovers had a grim day with the passing of Adam Schlesinger and Ellis Marsalis. Mr. Marsalis was an institution in New Orleans. Because he died during the pandemic, there will be no jazz funeral or second line to commemorate the founder of a jazz dynasty. The death of a beloved and accomplished 85-year-old man should be bittersweet instead of bitter, bitter, bitter.
I’m self-reliant and don’t mind solitude. I’ve never been quite sure if I’m an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert but it’s increasingly apparent that self-isolation is atomizing and alienating. At times, it’s like being a character in one of Ayn Rand’s dreadful novels. We’re focused on ourselves and our own survival instead of the greater good. On the whole, I’d rather be a Dickens character; even one of the cheerful losers like Mr. Micawber. Unfortunately, the federal government is nominally run by a man who makes Mr. Murdstone look empathetic. Trump babbles on about 100-200K deaths as the best-case scenario. Such a thought is monstrous: they’re not numbers, they’re human beings. That’s why I call him President* Pennywise.
The nautical news is particularly disturbing. The story of the aircraft carrier carrying hundreds of sailors stricken with the virus is heartbreaking. There’s no room for social distancing on any naval vessel. They live on top of one another from the Captain to the lowliest squid. They signed up to possibly die for their country in wartime, not because of a president’s unfitness for the job. Mercifully the Navy has found a solution. Unlike their nominal commander-in-chief, they still have the American can-do spirit personified by the ship’s namesake, Theodore Roosevelt.
Things remain bleak off the Florida coast. The cruise ship rejected by Governor DeSantis evokes images of the tragic 1939 journey of MS St. Louis aka the Voyage of the Damned. That ship carried Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution. American refusal to allow it to dock was among the most shameful moments in our history, not one that should be repeated.
The cruise ship crisis cries out for a federal response, but we have a president* who is too busy lying to lead. Our ship of state is rudderless as the captain points the finger of blame. The finger is blood-stained, and we know who to point it at come November.
Between Project Novel and world events, I’ve had the music of Neil Finn and Crowded House on my mind of late. The 1993 song Together Alone haunts me because its title perfectly captures this moment in time. It’s hard to be simultaneously alone and in this together but that’s the situation we find ourselves in. We have no choice but to make it work.
I’ve been with two loved ones when they died. It’s painful for the living but comforting for the dying. It’s almost an impossibility in this pandemic: COVID-19 requires that friends and families be separated because the risk of contagion is so high. The nature of the disease itself is atomizing and alienating, which is why these Neil Finn lyrics are so poignant:
Shallow and deep
Holding our breath
Paying death no heed
I’m still your friend
When you are in need
A reminder that, notwithstanding the indignities of this pandemic, we need to stick together and be there for one another. Death may have no mercy, but it is a must for human beings as is empathy. I curse those who continue to make excuses for a president* whose fatal lack of empathy has made this situation infinitely worse than it should have been.
The last word goes to Crowded House: