These are not official statistics, but some sources say that 100% of the population is sick of COVID-19. Not from it; of it.
Nevertheless, every single media organization feels compelled to say something about it, no matter how tangential the connection. If you’re wondering what House Beautiful magazine has to say, I’m here to help. From the stockpile of stories about the Times in Which We Find Ourselves: “People Are Putting Their Christmas Lights Back Up to Spread Cheer Amidst Coronavirus Scare.”
“In the midst of a global pandemic, people are looking on the bright side of life — literally.”
Do you suspect that the “people” in this story number under half a dozen?
Not so, the article claims: “As COVID-19 continues to spread and the need for social distancing increases, Twitter users are calling for people to put their Christmas lights back up.”
Oh, Twitter users! There are millions of those! And right now about half of them are barking mad, the equivalent of ham-radio ranters in a post-apocalyptic movie. How many does the piece quote?
Two. And one of those was someone who turned their lights back on, which is not “putting the lights back up,” so we have exactly one person who strung lights to spread cheer. Not to get all Grinchy, but this is not a trend.
But should it be?
No. I think if people saw lights right now they would wonder if the people inside had them on automatic timers and had left for the Dakotas to hole up until the grippe burns out. “My second cousin, he has a farm, and they grow their own food, and they got a tree pulper and a toilet-paper machine. It’s not fancy stuff — the perforations aren’t as good as store-bought, and sometimes a square’ll rip half off instead of right on the seam. But we have to roll with the times.”
Or it would be a reminder of Christmas, which is now regarded with gauzy memories as the Before Times, when all was good and twinkly and safe and secure. If you’re thinking next Christmas will have gifts like “clove-studded oranges” and “dolls made from Popsicle sticks,” you don’t want to be reminded.
But don’t think that way.
It’s understandable why you might. The news is unpleasant. You can’t stop reading, scrolling, Twitter-checking, reloading the page, talking yourself into a trough, then talking yourself back over the edge. It’s like we’ve been presented with a big pail of sewage and we’re bobbing for apples shaped like magnified COVID viruses.
We’ve been through this before, which, of course, is no bloody consolation whatsoever, but still. If you remember the weeks after Sept. 11, going to the Mall of America gave you odd tingles on the back of your neck. The sight of a plane near downtown sent mercury sluicing up your spine.
It’s different now, of course; going to the grocery store, the most normal thing in the world to do, now feels like you’re spelunking in the Chernobyl reactor. Going anywhere outside the home seems like you’re rolling the dice, as if a poisonous invisible miasma suffuses everything outside your front door.
That’s ridiculous. But if it keeps nonessential people from wandering around spreading germs willy-nilly — and sorry if I’m using too much medical jargon here — well, hurrah for paranoia. A fortnight of home-hunkering is a good idea.
Putting up Christmas lights is not going to help. That’s looking in the wrong direction. Think forward. Think green, as in lawns and leaves. Think tulips, a lovely sight you can cherish for a half-hour before the rabbits get them. Think sun. Think ... badminton?
Last weekend we took in an exchange student from Spain. She said she was on the high school badminton team. Really? So was Daughter! She’s home now, of course, the first year of college having slammed to an abrupt conclusion. My wife said I should get a badminton net so they can play, and I ordered one online. I’ll set it up when the weather’s right.
Maybe not April. You know how that month goes. It’s a trickster. But May, for sure.
It helps to think about May. How the world we love returns without effort, how the green arises and the sun flows down. We don’t need Christmas lights. We need the sound of lawn mowers.
It will feel normal to hear them again. And it will feel reassuringly normal to hear a leaf blower and think: “How I hate those things. Could they not wait until later? It’s Sunday morning.”
Life right now consists of appreciating small comforts. Eventually we’ll long for the days when minuscule annoyances mattered, because wasting emotion on petty things now seems luxurious.
So we’re agreed? We’ll all be happy to hear leaf blowers again?
No, I didn’t think so. We are a strong people, and we have our principles. That’s why we’ll survive. Unless you fall off the ladder putting the lights back up.