I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s when we were all pretty certain that sooner or later someone would drop a nuclear bomb on us. We went from the naivete of duck and cover to building underground bunkers with at least two weeks supply of food, medicine, and other essentials. The reasoning was that after two weeks, the radiation levels would be sufficiently low to allow us to emerge and get back to whatever was the new normal. That was before the days of really dirty bombs that could Chernobilize a nation and render it unfit for humans for centuries.
Perhaps this childhood was the cause of my life-long love of disaster and post apocalyptic books and films. I am prone to critiquing the characters and assessing how well or badly they addressed their particular disaster. I loved the TV series “Doomsday Preppers”, and even follow some on-line “prepper” sites. I have on occasion contributed articles when I felt I had anything useful to add to the conversation. My novella, “Wasting Water,” is an environmental, post-apocalyptic story that originally started as a how-to article for dealing with climate change, but I realized would make better fiction.
I’ve always kept a full pantry and freezer, know how to forage and garden, can come up with sour dough yeast and bake on a stone, if required. I even have a zombie apocalypse plan. But what we are dealing with in the days of Covid-19 is not what I think anyone was expecting.
This is a strange apocalypse where there is plenty of inexpensive gasoline and lots of food and supplies except for the rolling shortages–in my neighborhood, first toilet paper, then bread, then flour and yeast. But so far the supply chain is unbroken, and if you wait, the shelves are restocked in a few days. Contrary to everything we came to expect of an apocalypse, the way to avoid danger during this strange time is to stay home and amuse yourself.
It is safe to walk the streets and in the parks, enjoying spring, as long as you stay six feet away from everyone else. So far, there are no raiding gangs or angry mutants, only friendly dog walkers and neighbors eager to say hello. People put teddy bears in their windows so children in their neighborhoods can be comforted and amused as they walk by with their parents. Children, sent home from schools, are being taught remotely by sometimes frantic teachers learning to navigate on-line classes for the first time. The National Home School Association (https://nationalhomeschoolassociation.com/) has dropped it’s annual fee to $10. If children who got their meals from schools still need them, organizations are doing everything in their power to see that they are fed. As businesses close, food pantries, restaurants, churches, and volunteer organizations do their best to help those who have been laid off to have what they need.
Books, movies, concerts are all free and available on-line or on television. Museums give virtual tours, zoos have live cams of penguins and otters. People share information and comfort on line or by phone. Drive-by celebrations are held for any occasion that once would have drawn a crowd, helping to maintain social distance. Restaurants have switched to carry out and curbside pickup. The news is uninterrupted, there is water and electricity.
Our heroes are health care professionals, but also grocery store workers, trash collectors, anyone who keeps us safe and cared for. No novel or movie in my experience ever foresaw the level of mutual support and cooperation that has occurred during this pandemic. But we have had our villains–hoarders, deniers who encourage people to gather under unsafe conditions spreading the illness, incompetent or self-serving politicians.
Although this is unlike the horrific scenarios of the apocalypses we expected, hardships and loss of life are real and will continue to grow, nor has the worst passed. We may yet see the people who think an arsenal is necessary in the face of any crisis have their opportunity to protect their stores from the desperate. But in light of what I’ve seen so far, I think we will find ways to aid and support one another rather than “hunker down” and turn away those in need. The question we seem to be asking most often during this strange apocalypse is not “How can I protect what’s mine,” but “How can I help?”
The novella “Wasting Water” is in the anthology Undeniable: Authors Respond to Climate Change, available from Alternating Current Press or Amazon
Image: Forsythia. By Marilyn Evans.