4 months in, a bit of a ral­ly­ing cry

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - NEIL STEINBERG | @NeilStein­berg nstein­berg@sun­times.com

‘Any id­iot can sur­vive a cri­sis,” An­ton Chekhov once wrote, “It’s this dayto-day liv­ing that grinds you down.” OK, Chekhov didn’t ac­tu­ally write that — at least not any­where any­one could find it. Witty, anony­mous thoughts are some­times paired with him, or Hem­ing­way, or Kurt Von­negut, to give them a lit­tle ex­tra pop.

Though the non-Chekho­vian ob­ser­va­tion is pop­ping aplenty right now, with an ad­di­tional twist as we try to sur­vive day-to-day liv­ing in a cri­sis. The worst of both worlds. Of many worlds, all burn­ing. Since it can be easy to lose track — it’s Mon­day, right? — let’s re­view.

Mid-July in the Plague Year of 2020. Four months since what I con­sider the last nor­mal thing, the March North­brook Cham­ber of Com­merce meet­ing. The bench­mark be­fore life got strange. Take a look at the pic­ture. Crowded, huh? Shoul­der to shoul­der. Did you ever think you’d miss crowds? Not me.

More than 135,000 Amer­i­cans dead. Six hun­dred Amer­i­cans die of COVID-19 ev­ery day. No end in sight. Eco­nomic col­lapse. Thirty mil­lion un­em­ployed. Com­plete paral­y­sis of the fed­eral govern­ment, frozen, punc­tu­ated by the con­tin­u­ally yap­ping sound of our im­be­cile pres­i­dent.

Plus, his clue­less fans de­mand­ing to die. Plus, na­tion­wide civic unrest over racist po­lice bru­tal­ity fol­lowed by . . . well, where are we now, ex­actly? Some Great Awak­en­ing to the racial dis­par­i­ties of our coun­try? Pretty to think so — that is Hem­ing­way. Although to me, it seems the only peo­ple re­ally con­fronting the sit­u­a­tion are those who al­ready know.

But the rest? The ones who most need to get a clue are in­stead star­ing, in a con­vinc­ing ap­prox­i­ma­tion of out­rage, at some statue of Ulysses S. Grant top­pled two weeks ago.

Feel­ing sad and small at even the prospect that some­thing might change some­day.

Dry your eyes. It’s never that easy. Ad hoc scrub­bing of racist cel­e­bra­tions is great. But that’s just a start, right? It isn’t as if los­ing Stonewall Jack­son will fix ed­u­ca­tion, or hous­ing, or jobs, or the skewed crim­i­nal jus­tice system, or lack of cap­i­tal. Is it even a start?

Clear­ing the deck for ac­tion? Could be. Could also be the rit­ual pick­ing of lowhang­ing fruit. Don’t de­liver the eu­logy for en­trenched sys­temic racism quite yet, given that it has rolled along un­til ... what day is it again?

Be­ing aware is great — I cer­tainly no­ticed that the photo above is a room­ful of white folks. But so what? We were born that way, too. Where do we go from here? What’s the next step? Repa­ra­tions?

Given the fed­eral govern­ment can’t get more help to tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans whose un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits will run out mo­men­tar­ily, but in­stead is try­ing to pry away their health care dur­ing a pan­demic, and given that our pres­i­dent is a bro­ken toy who makes ev­ery­thing worse, the odds of the dam­age of slav­ery be­ing re­paired . . . let’s just say, this doesn’t seem the ideal mo­ment for that to hap­pen.

Of course it never is.

I ac­tu­ally left out some bad things, for brevity: The still weird daily rit­ual of masks, plas­tic shields, warn­ing signs, shut­tered busi­nesses. No plays or con­certs. No va­ca­tions. My wife would drink lye be­fore she’d step into an air­port. Sports on mute. And you know they’re missed when I’m miss­ing them. I swear, at this point, I would go to a Sox game. Not re­ally. But al­most.

And the strange thing is, when my wife and I as­sess the sit­u­a­tion, we feel . . . wait for it . . . blessed. Lucky. For­tu­nate, so far. Not sick, jobs in­tact, boys still rock­ing law school. But given how un­com­fort­able be­ing blessed feels right now, as day af­ter day af­ter day af­ter day af­ter day piles on, I can’t imag­ine how lousy not be­ing blessed feels. Hon­estly, I can’t. Just a dull blank. Sorry.

What I can do is pal­try, but it’s the best I’ve got. That is, to tell you what I tell my­self ever day, ev­ery sin­gle frickin’ car­bon copy of the day be­fore and the day af­ter day: Hang in there. Hold on. Chin up. One foot in front of the other. Bet­ter days ahead. Or so I hope.

That’s it. Lame, I know. Maybe it needs the gloss of quo­ta­tion. Let’s try this: In the words of the im­mor­tal Dr. John­son — and he did say this — “I will be con­quered. I will not ca­pit­u­late.” That sounds like a plan.

NEIL STEINBERG/SUN-TIMES

Hand­ing out a prize at the North­brook Cham­ber of Com­merce meet­ing, March 6. Af­ter you mar­vel at the crowded room, what comes next?

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