Another Day in Purgatory

When I was a child in parochial school, “Heaven” and “Hell” were vividly contrasting reward and punishment scenarios.  “Purgatory” was much tougher to imagine. It seemed like nothing more than a long, not-unpleasant wait for something better.  Purgatory was a threat only for grown-up imaginations.

To this aging Baby Boomer, life amid the Coronavirus pandemic gives me my first real appreciation of the concept of Purgatory.  It is a life of potentially never-ending semi-isolation, in which we are held out of reach of friends and loved ones while our remaining time on earth ticks away devoid of variety and societal comforts: sameness unrelieved except by food and virtual engagements.

We have no idea when or even if the social privations will ultimately end.  When they do, we have no idea what kind of different world we will be entering…and it will, necessarily be a different world.

If a vaccine isn’t available within the coming year, time-honored but meaningless social gestures like the handshake, cheek kiss and double- cheek kiss will likely fade permanently from habit, as youngsters learn that these conventions are not just anachronistic but potentially dangerous.

Claustrophobics will be relieved to see the practice of packing into subway cars and buses being abandoned in favor of an etiquette of social distancing.? From a couple of trips to Tokyo in the 1990’s, I vividly recall the professional subway “pushers” employed to assist riders’ entry into over-packed subway cars.?

We may come to regard things like salad bars, self-serve soda and frozen custard dispensers as equally uncouth and unsanitary to food-sharing habits of our ancestors, like spoon-sharing and hand-scooping from a community bowl.

Unfortunately, use-and-toss items will likely return to favor as consumers place more emphasis on personal safety than environmental protection.  This is something about which we must already worry.  Combined with the plummeting cost of fuel, this change in focus could hasten the demise of the biosphere as a whole.

Our dependence on social media for work, school, shopping and hanging-out with friends will continue its upward trajectory in replacing live interactions.  We’re a curious but lazy species that cannot resist the lure of “more” for less effort.

In-person sex will never fall out of favor, but it will occur less frequently and less casually.  People will feel more compelled toward practical monogamy, but with less in-person dating, opportunities for connecting with the “right” partner might be few and farther between.

Inevitably, the birth rate will drop precipitously, both because of a decline in intimacy and the powerful disincentive that living through depression and the decline of a civilization has for posterity planning.

The poor and middle class will get poorer as the rich class swoops in to pick  over its financial carcass.  We’ve pretty well read their manifesto in Republican words about “sacrifice” for the sake of the economy and Donald Trump’s feelingless speculations on egregious death statistics for the people he claims to “love.”

This emotionally bankrupt governance of the nation in the face of crisis may prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the United States’ constitutional experiment. If the people cannot depend on the president to tell them the truth or to protect them in times of peril, what is the whole point of having a chief executive? President Trump seems to think the purpose is to serve his own personal interests and whims, but our ancestors summarily rejected monarchy.

We are well-past time for a new Constitutional Convention.  The only reason no one is calling for one right now is because there is a universal sense that holding one must inevitably lead to a partisan impasse and the ultimate dissolution of the Union.

I think that we are coming to that, one way or the other.  Urged on by the health crisis and abdication of responsibility by our President, the Pacific states have already formed one regional alliance and the northeastern states are in the process of forming their own.  Can the southern states and midwest be far behind in shaping their own regional bodies?  

Once separate but equal under the law, the three branches of government have each been irretrievably broken through the cynical machinations of the Party of Trump.  Who knew they were so perilously fragile?

Democratic politicians are not entirely blameless in the decline and fall of the American democratic experiment.  However partisan they may be, though, Democrats are not guilty of the brazen cheating, excessive injustices and boldfaced lying that has redefined the Republican Party in the age of Trump.

Ten years from now, what will the judgement of history be?  Did we pull together to bring the runaway train to a screeching halt at the edge of the precipice or did we leave the madman at the helm and simply get what we deserved?

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

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