La Grande Dépression (2020): Shanah tovah!

I think that’s where I am. Not a 1929-style market crash–not that such a thing would have an enormous and direct effect on me–but another kind of crash, the sort where heroes that stand between you and the forces of evil die in the eleventh hour, and you imagine maniacal, vengeful, infuriating laughter echoing lightly in the air, around every corner, from every tall, solid edifice where decisions are made. Saying it in French gives it a little too much drama for “typical” little me, I know, but it also softens the words some and makes them tolerable to my ear.

I am not threatening Canada with the impending arrival of my family; the Canadians did not ask us to come. Nor do I imagine there are countries that really would make us more comfortable. There may be, but I do not know, for sure, and as we are Americans, and Jews, to boot, we are likely unwelcome in most of the places I would consider. What do we have to offer? Skills already being provided by their own people, and offspring who need services their countries are likely providing more efficiently than my own. We lack the gumption of our parents and grandparents that came to America determined to make it, no matter how hungry they had to be for a while. They came here, running from the very ideologies that are gaining traction and power here now. People’s rights are in serious jeopardy. Nazis and Nazi sympathizers are taking seats in our government.

The Jewish New Year is a time of reflection, but it is also happy. New year! New beginning! We don’t celebrate it in quite the same way as December 31st revelers do, but the weather tends to be better, at least in my part of the world, and the forward-looking perspective of hope and possibility is similar. Like the winter holiday, though, there’s lots of room for people to go, well, south. And for me, they have. I am lower than I have been in many years. I’m sure some of it is chemical, and I’m taking my black cohosh like a good little old lady, and have a shiny new anti-depressant. I am not feeling any kind of Rosh HaShana anything.

I wish I were.

I am not a believer. I always felt good, though, dressing up and going to synagogue, seeing familiar faces, wishing a happy new year to people. Lipstick can be very good for my bruised ego. Doesn’t work for everyone. I enjoy inspiring words and thoughtful meditations. It’s easy enough, if you are a thinking person, to replace the word “God” and other difficult ideas with more fathomable ones when you want to be contemplative. For me, synagogue is a place of community and connection more than anything else, which is why I have made it my job to make it a place that feels that way for anyone who wants to be there. The High Holidays, as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called, are exciting, because at least in America, that’s when everyone goes.

I can’t get excited about the virtual experience. I know I should try to be a cheerleader for it, but I just can’t. And now I need uplifting more than ever, because all the things I do believe in and value are slipping away, and people are calling them “politics.” I will never understand how or why someone having equal protection under the law (and in action) is political, or how discussing that is political. I do not understand how saying that I have the right to decide what happens to my own body is political. I am not being political; I am being human. What has politics come to mean? Its definition has expanded into territory where it was never meant to be, and now we all hate each other.

I don’t want to talk on the phone any more. I used to enjoy a good blab with a friend, and now, even if I had friends, I wouldn’t want to do that. I barely have the energy to text and message. We all have our own problems, sure. They all feel a little worse right now. Therapists are in such high demand, their waiting lists are closed. We’re locked in. We’re raising a generation that was already losing the ability to communicate by voice and in person with others; now they go to school virtually, and have boyfriends and girlfriends they date on screens. No one touches anyone, and for those of us behaving responsibly, no one smiles, as far as we can tell.

We talk about “the new normal” and joke lightly with neighbors that answering “okay” to the question, “how are you?” is really the best anyone can ask for, isn’t it?

I don’t believe that any of this is the best we could have asked for. You can close your eyes to all kinds of information; we’ve all done it. I don’t blame President Trump for Covid-19. I do blame him and his administration for their response to it, for trying to be politic and downplaying it instead of reacting to it. Because we can look back at Obama’s response to the Ebola virus in western Africa for comparison. (I am not saying President Obama always did everything right; I am saying he protected this country from an epidemic.) Look, the wondrous, history-making, incredibly strong Ruth Bader Ginsberg was 87 years old and quite sick. She hung on despite her illness to the very best of her ability–we all saw her working out with her trainer. She was not going to live forever. I know we will always be blessed by her memory, as will, I hope, her family and friends. But that the rights of so many decent people hang in the balance right now just because she died–that’s wrong. It’s terrible. It’s politics, but it shouldn’t be.

Vaccines against disease are also not in my understanding of politics. To my mind, the work of the CDC should not fit into any definition of politics. Disease Control–it’s right in the name. When you’re depressed, issues get boiled down to simple terms; it’s this or it’s that. My beliefs or your beliefs. We are a country of depressed people–my way or the highway.

We are just here, in our little house on Rosh Hashana, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar, listening to the incessant noise of neighbors’ outdoor chores and chatter. it’s like being lonely when everyone else seems to have a date, or being deep in mourning when everyone else seems fine. How can they?

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