I awoke on Christmas morning as the sunshine was flooding my bedroom. The rain of the previous night is gone and outside a family of finches is twittering cheerfully in the hibiscus bush outside my window. Walking down Santa Monica Boulevard the sky is a cloudless turquoise and the bright sunlight seems to enhance every color. All of the familiar sights seem to be painted in vivid hues and the warmth of the sun caresses my bare arms. This is a wonderful day to be alive.
Just a few blocks to the south of Santa Monica Boulevard, the beauty of the day cannot be appreciated.
At Cedars-Sinai there are no empty beds in the Intensive Care Unit. There are people gasping for breath as if drowning. Families are anxious, feeling impotent. Health care providers are exhausted, desperately trying to pull on their last reserves to get them through their shift.
Although over 300,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, it remains a pandemic that divides us rather than brings us together. It is a capricious stalker that preys upon us in ways that are both random and predictable. The toll falls heavily upon the infirm, the aged and those who are the most economically challenged.
Unlike the last pandemic I survived, I don’t know anyone who has died. I wasn’t so lucky the last time. AIDS ravaged West Hollywood and I lost track of friends and loved ones who were lost. But at least, then, there was a solidarity within our community, perhaps because West Hollywood was so besieged. We only had each other to cling to.
COVID-19 has divided our country in ways that I could never have imagined and it makes me worry about the future. Seeing images of crowded airports as people pack themselves into planes for the holidays doesn’t make me angry; it makes me sad to think that we are finding it increasingly difficult to make sacrifices in our routines and lifestyle in a time of national crisis. We are a people who cannot suffer inconvenience and COVID has exposed our national character in an unflattering light.
I know we are all justifiably frustrated by the isolation, the disruption in our lives. We miss hanging out in our favorite West Hollywood haunts with our friends, being surrounded by familiar faces at the gym or the random casual intimacies that were the patterns of our lives a year ago.
But we need to remember we all do not share a common experience of the pandemic. It is not just a matter of being sick or healthy, but of being employed or not being employed. Paying your rent or not paying your rent. Worrying about not going to the gym or worrying about how you are going to feed your family. The devastating disruptions of COVID have not been equally shared.
For the majority of us in West Hollywood the impacts have been relatively more minor, resulting in changes in our daily routines, mere inconveniences not actual sacrifices. Despite our normal feelings of frustration at the isolation, we need to draw on our own reserves of patience in order to help those whose lives have being totally disrupted, those for whom COVID is a real crisis.
As a community we need to re-direct our frustrations. We have neighbors who need our help. While demonstrations down Santa Monica Boulevard in support our local businesses may be an outlet for our frustrations, we need to be more constructive. While I appreciate, we’ve been honing our culinary skills at home, we need to order out from our local restaurants as much as possible. Also don’t forget to add a tip. Just because some restaurants are open does not mean that the employees are making much beyond minimum wage. If there were a tip jar at Ralphs or Pavilions, I would be using it.
Resolve to make a serious attempt to clean out your closet. In the months ahead many people will remain unemployed and your fashion sense will be greatly appreciated. As my husband says, if you didn’t fit into it a year ago, why is it still in the closet? We all have nice things that others would appreciate. So if fitting into those pants has gone from being aspirational to delusional, be brave and get all that stuff to Out of the Closet where it will do someone some good.
But most of all we need to give. Most of us have fifty or a hundred dollars that we could give to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank or Project Angel Food. The need is so great if you can make the sacrifice, then do the right thing. Don’t assume that someone else is going to do it. It is time for all of us who can to step up to the plate. If it makes you feel better, tell yourself it is going to unemployed go-go boys.
Not since December of 1944 have Americans had a more anticipated New Year. Back then our parents or grandparents were praying that the coming year would put an end to WWII and that loved ones fighting overseas would be coming home.
We already know that 2021 will be a better year that 2020. We have a new President, a new City Council and a new vaccine. We have a lot to look forward to… so let’s not mess it up. There is more you can do to stand up in this crisis than just wearing a mask.
Ideally in 2021 the simple pleasures of life that we have foregone the last nine months will not only be back, but also will be more appreciated. Perhaps COVID was a reminder that we take way too many things for granted. And I don’t mean toilet paper.
Steve Martin, West Hollywood