We’re up over 70,000 new diagnoses daily in this country, more than 130,000 are dead, hospitals in multiple states are running out of ICU beds, and Walt Disney World decides it’s a great time to reopen. Must be time for another entry in the Accidental Plague Diaries. I’m in a bit better mood than i was when I wrote my last missive. That was a low point. I’m not sure what refreshed my soul. Maybe my once a month trip to Target for supplies (100% masks on patrons and employees), maybe having appointments with a couple of my favorite patients over the last few days, maybe memories of Tommy and Steve. Today would have been mine and Tommy’s sixth legal anniversary. We didn’t use the date as we’d been together for nearly twelve years when we did get married. That was simply a formality for taxes and insurance.
Prior to the Obergefell decision of 2015, marriage laws were something of a patchwork in this country but the Windsor decision of 2013 decreed that, at least for federal purposes, a legal marriage in any state would be recognized by the federal government. Tommy and I looked at our taxes and things and decided that marriage would be advantageous. We decided that we didn’t want a wedding. We were a decade or more too late for that and there was the issue of Alabama dragging its feet for state purposes so we decided, on our next trip to Seattle to visit the family, we would do the deed. I contacted my old friend Kanti Carolyn Ramamurti, an attorney in Seattle and she put us in touch with a judge who was willing to marry us so one July afternoon, we trekked down to the King County Criminal Court in Redmond along with my father, brother, and cousin Jenny for witnesses and said our ‘I dos’ in front of the power vested by the state of Washington right after she was done with the Grand Theft Auto case that dragged on a bit longer than anyone expected. That was followed by a dinner for family and friends in my sister’s back yard. Tommy felt that even that was too much hoopla but I expect he secretly enjoyed it. On the flight back to Alabama, our marriage dissolved and reformed several times depending on which state we were flying over and was not recognized when we returned home, but we were able to file a joint tax return that year and a year later, with Obergefell, remained married no matter what the flight path.
Our marriage was, of course, cut short by Tommy’s untimely death four years later but it was valid and made a huge difference in our lives in regards to dealing with various institutions. It allowed me to put him on my benefits without question, it helped at tax time, it announced to the world we weren’t giving up on each other (although everybody had already figured that one out), and it changed how we related to each other in some subtle but real ways. We both knew that leaving each other would now require a lot more than packing a suitcase and walking out the door and there was more strength to the bond when we had our fights (and believe me, we had some doozies). Most importantly, I think, was we understood that we were riding a wave of societal change forward. We had no idea where it was going to lead us, but we knew that there would be no turning back and that things would always be different.
I think one of the fundamental flaws of American culture, and I wonder if it’s descended from the Boomer ideal of how the media depiction of America prevalent in their childhood – the Leave it to Beaver and Sally, Dick and Jane world of perfection and safety – is some sort of quintessence that must be recaptured at all costs, is its rose colored nostalgia that causes people to look backwards rather than forwards. When applied to the current time of Covid-19, we all run around talking about things getting back to normal or things being all over. Honestly, we have no way of knowing if that is going to be possible and, even if the virus were to fall silent tomorrow, we wouldn’t be able to go back to where we were last fall. There’s been too much radical change to allow that. It’s the old You Can’t Go Home Again phenomenon.
I’m hoping that some of our brighter thinkers (and I do not count myself among that group) can start giving us ways to start thinking about moving forward to what can be rather than pining for what is no longer and can help us redirect our energies in that way. Our education system, for instance, was borrowed from Prussia in the mid 19th century and was designed to create an obeisant proletariat of workers and soldiers. Regimented, full of an unwritten curriculum of obedience to authority, subject to the tyranny of the clock (hungry? too bad – you can’t eat until the bell rings). We no longer live in that world. Perhaps this can be a time where we can take the underpinnings of the system and reinvent something for who we are in the 21st century, nearly 200 years later. We are the wealthiest society that the planet has ever produced and where does an enormous amount of our treasure go? Defense systems far above and beyond what are needed. Can some of that be redirected? Our health system is tied to employment due to mid 20th century historical accident. What are the possibilities there?
Living in the past with backwards thinking is toxic and corrosive and will set you up for failure. Being the show queen that I am, and having been primed with several viewings of Hamilton, I went to my CD collection and to the Sondheim rack where I tend to find a lot of life’s answers. I put on the Original Cast Album of Follies, a show that is about the dangers of living in the past, trying to stop time, and refusing to recognize that either you or the world has changed. That title is a double edged sword. It may be about the ghosts of the between the wars young adults and their mature 1970s selves but the same phenomenon is happening today, especially with the boom. How many Boomer icons in their 70s and 80s are trying to project the same image they have for the last fifty years? In my job, I see so many people in their 70s to whom I have to break it that their disease processes are chronic and not curable due to the ravages of time who simply refuse to accept it. Our two candidates for president are 74 and 77. Could this be the moment that we can move forward with a cultural reset and where younger artists with a new way of looking at the world get their chance to lead us in new directions?
I’m thinking that our sclerotic, if not downright fossilized social institutions are cracking under the strain of Covid and that may not necessarily be a bad thing, as long as the energy is channeled in positive directions. If it goes negative… well let’s just hope we avoid 1793 France or 1918 Russia.
Time to change the CD. Switching from Follies to Merrily We Roll Along, a caustic look at where the Boomers went wrong in middle age. Seems somewhat fitting, doesn’t it. I am allowed to criticize the Boomers, I am one, although at the very tail end of the generation.
In the meantime, wash your hands, wear your mask, and stay home when you can.