By Christian Willbern, guest columnist
In a few weeks, I was supposed to get up at 7 a.m., put on a starchy cap and gown, and walk across a stage in front of hundreds of people to receive an empty diploma sleeve.
While that sounds more revolting than Burger King’s 2002 green ketchup, I was inexplicably looking forward to it. Many of my fellow seniors were.
That walk across a stage was earned through four (in my case, five) years of hard work and panic attacks — just to be taken away within a blink of an eye.
Instead, now, I am using hand sanitizer my dad made with baby lotion from the 1990s. Instead, I am staring mindlessly at my TV while my dad screams uniquely crafted expletives from the garage. Instead, I’m returned to a strange yet inane Twilight Zone episode, where our dogs outnumber us in a 2:1 ratio, barking incessantly until my voice eventually, if ever, drowns them out.
Where the most fun I’ve had all day is painting my dad’s fingernails and toenails pink while he was asleep.
This is what many of our lives are like during this time of uncertainty: returning back to child-like activities without the child-like innocence. Or turning to work with a (somewhat) child-like approach because you can go without putting on make-up or showering for five days.
Maybe, it’s a little bit of both.
Now, it’s nearly impossible to look at our current situation with rose-colored glasses. Turn on any news channel, and it seems that the COVID-19 global pandemic shapeshifted into one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Restaurants, schools, office buildings, once bustling with energy, now resemble the dark emptiness of cemeteries. Grocery stores lined with markers 6 feet apart from each other. People standing on said markers in a sea of face masks and surgical gloves. Outside these grocery stores, toilet-paper drug deals occur because of the one-per-person rule (yes, this actually happened).
While most of these actions are sensible, many let this fear morph into panic to the point they act like hyenas over toilet paper.
On the other side of that coin sits denial. College students and others throwing “coronavirus quarantine parties.” The Texas lieutenant governor and radio personalities suggesting old people should “take a chance on their survival in order to save the economy.” That they are willing to die in order to “save the country.”
These are the two roads Americans are sitting at today. Panic and denial. Panic about the future and denial about the present.
Because my fear of death and anxiety disorder skip hand-in-hand around my brain, it’s incredibly difficult to watch the news or get into lengthy conversations about the coronavirus. However, that does not mean I negate the gravity of this disease. My home-away-from-home, New Orleans, is said to become the next epicenter of the virus, with nearly 1,500 cases to date.
Reuters reporter Brad Brooks states this is of serious concern for my hometown of Houston. The two cities have “historically strong links, made even more so by an influx of New Orleans residents into Houston following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey,” Brooks said. As of right now, there are only 254 COVID-19 cases in Houston. But, as in New Orleans and the rest of the country, we know these numbers will rise.
It’s hard to face these facts without thinking the grim reaper is coming for us all. It’s hard not to panic about what havoc this pandemic will wreak in a few months. However, if these two cities share anything, it’s the fact that they rose from the watery ashes stronger than ever.
There is a third, rockier road that we can choose. We can be rational yet cautious. We don’t have to clear out grocery stores of paper products and hand sanitizer by 10 a.m. We will not sacrifice others for the sake of a good time and the economy.
So, suck it up that no college or high school graduate will walk across the stage in May, and that you will have to drink alone at your home for the foreseeable future, and we may get through this.
Christian Willbern is a senior in mass communications at Loyola University New Orleans.