Justin E.H. Smith:

In spite of it all, we are free now. Any fashion, sensibility, ideology, set of priorities, worldview or hobby that you acquired prior to March 2020, and that may have by then started to seem to you cumbersome, dull, inauthentic, a drag: you are no longer beholden to it. You can cast it off entirely and no one will care; likely, no one will notice. Were you doing something out of mere habit, conceiving your life in a way that seemed false to you? You can stop doing that now.

For someone like me, healthy and relatively unaffected by this viral disruption, it would be glib to celebrate it as some sort of cleansing agent, scouring society free of frivolity and cant. Besides, frivolity and cant are like the dandelions and chickweed of human nature. They’ll never be absent for long, no matter how zealous your efforts to uproot them. As the poet said, humankind cannot bear very much reality.

Nonetheless, I do find the occasional mordant joke coming to mind. Yesterday, while walking into Target, we saw the sign informing us that the first hour of business operations is now reserved for the “vulnerable,” especially the elderly. “You think anyone’s tried that yet? ‘But officer, I identify as vulnerable and at-risk! And I’m trans-aged!'” Saying it out loud makes it clear: that kind of chutzpah is a decadent luxury, only to be indulged in comfortable times, when sane people can afford the indulgence of a tolerant eye-roll.

Later in the evening, I wondered how many anti-vaxxers will be in line next year for the inevitable vaccine. There’s nothing like having reality tire of your inane chattering, seize you by the lapels, and pull you in face-to-face with his rictus grin long enough to gag on his reeking breath, to help you get your priorities temporarily straight. Later on, when you’re safe again, you’ll be full of bluster and tough talk about what you would have done if he hadn’t let you go, but at least for a little while, you’ll remember: once he deigns to fix his gaze on you, reality will never blink. Fortunately for our sanity, we blink thousands of times a day. Fashions, ideologies, worldviews, hobbies, and countless other eyelids provide us with constant respite. It’s involuntary, and with good reason.