It’s Not About You, Beautiful Butterfly

Hard as that is to believe, it’s truly not about exceptional, extraordinary you.

It has nothing to do with your hair, your nails, your thirst for a bar-poured beverage or a ‘poor-me’ road trip.

It’s about all of us. You, of course, and the rest of us — the many lesser planets who circle around wondrous, home-weary you.

The collective WE in the midst of this pandemic crisis.

And, if I may speak for the collective, we’d like to live, thank you very much. Provided, of course, that doesn’t interfere with your social calendar, salon appointment or ‘I deserve a splurge’ outing.

We would like to see COVID kicked to the curb, schools and businesses open up, a return to the carefree days when not giving a damn didn’t lead to damnable, agonizing death and the anguish of those left behind.

But we are so not there.

And what that means, from my admittedly unscientific perspective, is that we can’t quite go there — or anywhere — yet.

We just can’t. We tried. We failed. And now we’re not just back to square one; we are miles and a million mortalities behind square one.

So that means we need to wear the perfunctory mask, sanitize, socially distance and stay the hell at home.

That last one’s the toughest. We get it. We know how hard it has been. I’m right there with you, feeling cooped up, caged in, corralled and put in a corner — even though we’ve done nothing wrong.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s not about right or wrong, blame or shame. It’s not about being healthy or young, old or infirm, conservative or liberal, a science believer or denier. It’s about all of us — staying apart — together. And realizing that your stroll around the mall, your margarita meet-up with friends, your pedicure or visit to the pet groomer affects all of us in ways we can’t see or fully appreciate.

I liken it to the butterfly effect we all studied in middle school, Edward Lorenz’s theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can trigger a tornado in Texas. Actions have non-linear, unpredictable, and often chaotic impacts on systems. Cause and effect outcomes that we didn’t plan for but can’t escape.

So then, it’s not such a stretch that our desire to evolve from this cocoon-like quarantined state, spread our wings and head to the beach could — and in fact is — triggering a COVID typhoon. Positive tests are at an all-time high, hospitals in hot zones are exceeding capacity, the death toll is rising as we’ve let down our guard.

It seems our metamorphosis from home-alone slug to social butterfly is having profound, tragic implications, and prolonging our collective rising.

No doubt about it: this COVID stuff has been tough and unrelenting. The first few weeks felt a bit like an adventure, an unseasonably warm snow day. We stocked up and settled in. And then it went on and on and on — without a thaw.

Our patience began to wane. We got fidgety. Footloose. We began venturing further and further afield.

We’re not often asked to make sacrifices for the greater good, which is perhaps why we’re not especially good at it. It’s been 75 years since Americans grew victory gardens, observed civil defense blackout periods, and complied with the rationing of basic goods needed for the war effort.

We appear to be abysmally out of practice.

What we are skilled at is looking out for our own self-interests and sating personal desires, whims and cravings. But delayed gratification and self-denial? Not so much. Stay at home to avoid being a vector? Fat chance! Check out the lines awaiting Disney World’s reopening.

Here is something else we’ve elevated to art form: justification. We can turn any desire, even the most ill-advised, fly-in-the-masked-face-of-medical-precaution yearning into serious survivalist necessity: ‘I need this’ (insert indulgence of choice: massage, vacation, shopping spree, concert, etc.) ‘It’s for my mental health.’ (never mind the health of others.) ‘When I look good, I feel good’ (following or preceding a trip to the hair stylist, nail salon, gym or tanning booth). ‘But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ (as in end-of-school parties, birthday celebrations and travel excursions.)

Now, before you accuse me of being judgmental — let me beat you to the punch. I am being judgmental. We all should be. Because the decisions we’re making during this viral time are pretty darn consequential — life-or-death level. We should be making smart, Good Samaritan choices, and keenly, cautiously aware of how those choices affect the collective.

Let’s face it: In the hierarchy of martyrdom, staying home doesn’t rank too high. The last several months have taught us that we can work and learn, connect and converse, entertain ourselves — and others — from the confines of home.

Nobody is asking us to be Florence Nightingale, attend the sick or donate a lung. In fact, nurses and doctors are begging us to stay home.

We’ve got heroes aplenty — medical providers, first responders, grocery store stockers, delivery personnel — working around the clock to keep us safe and well and protected.

What we need more of are good soldiers. We need folks to fall in line … follow the advice of experts (stab in the dark but I’m guessing that may not include you, beautiful butterfly) … put your bucket list on the back burner for a spell … and understand, once and for all, it’s not about you.

My friend who died of COVID this week understood that. She devoted her life to serving and uplifting others. She believed in community, the power of coming together — and the saving grace of staying apart.

So, for the love of humanity people: Wear a mask. Stay at home. Be a good and patient caterpillar.

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