Anger in a Time of Coronavirus
So, its Saturday and I would not have known that had I not tuned into the TV news yesterday evening and learned it was Friday. A local talking head announced that the city was closing the parking lots to most of the beaches and trailheads, and had requested the Golden Gate Recreation Area be closed as well, all to keep weekend crowds from forming. “Weekend,” I wondered, “What’s a weekend?”
My — and, I assume, your — relationship with time is starting to shift. Sun, moon, day, night, light, dark mark time, not arbitrary numbers on a clock or calendar. I still have my routines, but they are tied to things like waking up and being tired enough to sleep, my stomach grumbling and bladder aching. Little dog Harry scratches at my leg and that’s the alarm clock telling me that it is time to take him for a walk. Oh, I haven’t abandoned notated time. This morning, I interviewed someone at 10 a.m. But, being that it is Saturday and both my interview subject and I picked a weekend day to talk, it seems like together we flattened the week, if only subconsciously.
I’ve had days flatten and hours disappear on vacation, but I’ve never sat on a beach watching waves of anxiety, dread, and anger come toward me. After years of crippling anxiety, I’ve learned how to disperse stress by shifting into a serious calm, a non-Buddhist/Buddhist-like sit-in-the-moment presence coupled with projecting myself out of a situation so that I can examine things in calm. World-wide anxiety challenges that mind-frame. The anxiety isn’t my lizard brain spinning insecurities and worry, instead the anxiousness is everywhere around me. The street is anxious. The line at Trader Joe’s is anxious. The store is anxious. I can feel anxiety in the quiet halls of our apartment building and in the pad-locked playground below.
I’ve replaced days and hours with signals from nature that it is time to sleep or shit, but also with a body count. I’ve tried to say away from reports on how many people are sick, how many have died, and what country ranks where in infections and fatalities; however, in casual six-foot conversations on the street and when pulling up to a news site, the body count is there. If the number is not how many people died today, it’s the body count of the 1918 Great Influenza Epidemic or the AIDS Pandemic of the 1980s and 1990s. The body count is also the future dead — how many people will die if we don’t “flatten the curve,” how many cases will crush a hospital and lead to how many more deaths, how many people will Donald Trump kill because he is too scared, inept, selfish or callous to act.
Thinking of future dead begets dread. On what flattened-day, at what non-hour will I look out the window and start seeing body bags dragged out of buildings, piled on the back of a flatbed truck to the sound of Eric Idle calling out “Bring out your dead!”? When will the virus and death shift from abstract to personal? When will someone I know die? When will I wake up with a cold cough and fever? When will I make a little money? Will that money be worth anything? Are people as inherently good as I think they are or am I just fooling myself? Can we use this moment to create change?
Lately, I’ve had a lot of space to fill with dread, but also with anger — which helps moderate and even do away with the dread. Anger is fine. I am comfortable with anger, not so good with rage, but anger is a cinch. And, man, there is so much to be angry about. Obviously, there is Trump. Everyday he hits a new low. Last week he went from pushing an untested miracle cure, suggested to him by a tech titan with no medical background, to lying about the number of tests, masks, and respirators available; from turning White House virus updates into campaign rallies to jerking around states just because he can. He says that he won’t help people unless he is “appreciated.” Okay, we appreciate that Donald Trump is a vain, narcissistic, greedy, immoral, ignorant vindictive person. Now, Mr. President, will stop whining and start helping people?
I am angry that the entire healthcare system is in shambles. For years, I figured that the problem with the system was access and affordability, but now that hospitals are overwhelmed, health care workers overwhelmed, working in parking-lot triage tents… hell, it’s obvious that the whole system needs a reworking.
I am angry that doctors and nurses struggle to obtain simple supplies. A New York hospital was forced to go on the open market to get face masks. They found a source in China and paid ten times what they would have six month ago when masks were a dime a pop (a problem everyone is facing). When the masks landed, they found that they’d been sold the rinky-dink kind used in nail salons.
I am pissed off because a New York City nurse died from coronavirus because she — and others — lacked proper protective equipment and had to resort to wearing plastic bags.
All praise to the army of 3-D printers working hard making surgical face shields and parts for respirators, but why? Why does the richest country in the history of the world need people making medical supplies for hospitals, at home? Why do governors have to bow and beg the president to force factories to produce respirators? Why does the president put the burden of making respirators on the one company that he thinks wronged him, the order to manufacture framed as a punishment? Why did the administration ignore warnings that the country’s hospitals are not prepared for such a crisis? And, why am I — a journalist and someone who is pretty well informed — finding this stuff out now?
I am pissed because one of the wealthiest institutions in the country, Yale University, training ground for America’s elite, told the city of New Haven “No can do” when asked if they could provide dorm rooms and apartments to first responders fighting the virus. The university said they didn’t have time to assist New Haven. Fortunately, the much smaller, much less wealthy University of New Haven stepped up when asked.
And then there is this: A 17-year old boy who had tested positive for COVID-19, died of a heart attack triggered by coronavirus symptoms. He did not have to die. A week-ago Friday, the kid was healthy. The virus hit and his symptoms started worsening. On Wednesday, an ambulance took him to an urgent care unit where he was turned away because he didn’t have health insurance. As the ambulance rushed to an ER, the kid had a heart attack and died. I initially wrote that the kid died from a heart attack, but the truth is that he died because our cruel, for-profit health care system failed to take care of the sick. I was already pissed off before I read that story. I got more pissed of reading that story. And I am more pissed off than ever retelling that story.
I am angry and so are you, and that is good. Yes, it is good to be angry. Anger is not a bad emotion. It is a healthy response to injustice or being wronged. Anger is not static. It is a motivator. It is fuel. It can even sharpen your vision and response to the meanness in the world. Where anger goes wrong is when it is misplaced or misdirected. Free-floating, unfocused anger is unhealthy and can easily slip into rage.
The Latin for rage is rabies, the same word we use for the virus whose symptoms include “violent movements,” “uncontrolled excitement” and foaming of the mouth. Translated, rabies means “anger fury.” After feeling irritation, frustration, and anger, we can move to anger fury or rage. Psychologist believe that rage is a primitive and immature emotion, that we feel it when our perception of self is threatened, either authentically or when we personalize natural events, universal occurrences, that which is beyond our control, and even the wrong done to others.
Overwhelmed by rage, we believe that “The whole world is against me,” “They screwed up and now the coronavirus will attack me,” “They are spreading the disease and now I will get it,” “The Democrats, the ‘lamestream media’, the Chinese are to blame, not me,” and “No one appreciates me what I do for you!” Sound familiar?
Yup, Donald Trump is a perfect example of some who is in a constant state of rage. You see it in his interaction with the press, the constant name calling, the seething he does when he has to read something from a teleprompter, his attacks on anyone that he thinks is against him, his grandstanding, and his dismissal of those who challenge his self-image. His rage dictates his decision making, turning everything in to a personal transaction. And, god-forbid anyone who does not praise him when he honors his side of a contract! Unacceptable! Rage compounds rage.
When we are enraged, we do not contemplate why or what is happen. We are in anger fury. We react. I could not write this essay in a state of rage. It is too introspective and too analytical. In rage, this essay would read, “FUCK TRUMP HE NEEDS TO GET CORONAVIRUS AND DIE AND FUCK THE HOSPITALS THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN FUCK INSURANCE COMPANIES FUCK ALL THE FUCKERS IN FUCKING FUCKVILLE THEY HURT ME BURN IT ALL DOWN.” While I can’t write this essay in rage, I can write this in anger.
My anger, your anger, our anger gives me hope. That anger tells me that we know things are bad and that there are real-world reasons why — not phantom reasons, but things that we can identity, verify, and act on. We are angry because we know that there is no way to justify a medical facility turning away a person in a health crisis and we know why this cruelty happened. We are angry because we know that there was a simple solution to the “problem” of a person having no health insurance. We are angry because no one said, “Damn, the insurance companies. Admit the kid. Let’s help him out.”
Our anger is righteous anger. We should not suppress our anger or let it overwhelm us. We need to feel anger when we see injustice. We also must step outside of ourselves, examine the anger, and act on it. Our anger can be constructive anger. Our anger can be tempered with compassion and humor. We can use hope to dictate how we harness our anger and use it as energy to create change. We are partners to but not slaves of our emotions. We can use what we feel to make a better world.