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A House Divided

At this moment when the country is poised on the brink of post-COVID re-entry, all kinds of fault lines are being revealed—racial, socioeconomic, cultural, political. It’s red states vs. blue states; the working poor who will die if they don’t get back to work vs. the privileged who can afford to work from home and focus on public health; white Americans who can locate testing near them vs. black and brown Americans, for whom tests are largely unavailable. I’m not denying that those differences exist, but I think they obscure a more fundamental breach, which is the one inside each of us individually. 

I don’t believe that any of us (not even the gun-slinging liberators) are fully integrated in our internal feelings around what to do next. Some of us have more bravado than others in disguising that internal turmoil. I know people who are so allergic to their own state of uncertainty that they hurl themselves straight to strident conviction without blinking. Others may be more conscious of their fear but believe that showing ambivalence is a sign of weakness.

My feeling is the opposite. I’ve always believed that exposing the nuances and contradictions of my internal process—including the steep gradations of my certainty index—is how I’ve earned the trust of those I’ve led and those who’ve invested in my ideas.

What I’m experiencing is like a schizophrenic split between two radically different personas…

In normal times, I am able to celebrate the complications of making difficult decisions. But right now, it’s crazy-making and I’ve largely kept my internal dialogue to myself (ves). What I’m experiencing is like a schizophrenic split between two radically different personas:  respectful Rachel, who is truly afraid of getting sick or (actually worse) getting my daughters sick, one of whom is pregnant; and renegade Rachel, who’s so done with all of this that she’s ready to go screaming into the street stark naked (from the neck up). 

Let me give you one example of how this plays out. Just one tiny example. I shop for groceries several times a week. Yeah, I could definitely order from Instacart or Fresh Direct, but I’m tired of getting radishes when I said radicchio and really these avocados seem ripe to you?? And no, I’m not going to be that person who asks the guy to come back and give me that one tangerine he forgot that I need for the Jerusalem fish I’m making tonight. I mean I AM that person, but I can’t BE her right now.  

Anyway, so I go to the store even though I know it’s increasing my risk. That part is okay, but even at this point I’m aware that the two Rachels are shoving each other around. I get home and then comes the worst part…I mean truly…THE WORST PART of this pandemic for me (insert abject apology to those who’ve suffered illness, lost their jobs or their loved ones, seriously you might want to not read further): sanitizing my groceries. I can’t explain why I hate this so much. But here’s where the two Rachels start duking it out: 

Me: “Go on, bitch. Get that Lysol wipe and yes you definitely need to do the bottom of the milk carton are you nuts, OF COURSE YOU DO!”.

Also me: “Oh no. I am not sterilizing every one of those Pellegrino bottles, oh HELL NO! I am so done with this.”   

The result is that I’m going through this ritual half assed and both Rachels are pissed off.  

I spend the rest of the day imagining myself in the hospital explaining on zoom to my girls that I’ve infected everyone because I just couldn’t bear to wipe down 12 bottles. But also, I imagine the freedom of just deciding that this is simply not the way I’m going to catch COVID-19. I’ll wear a mask, stay distant, and that’s the end of it. The rest of this bullshit can just stop. 

Media pundits like to invoke Lincoln’s “house divided” admonition to describe the stakes of our current polarized society.  But it seems to me that the real divides are within ourselves, and if we could just (a) accept and (b) admit that we’re struggling to reconcile the two when we state our various positions on how to proceed, I’ll bet we’d discover much more common ground among us, and might even be able to help one another take the next step toward re-entry.


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