So many unknowns

The phrase “The Winter of Our Discontent” has honorable origins, penned first by Shakespeare to open his historical drama “Richard III” and lifted 368 years later by John Steinbeck as the title of his final novel. 

Today the timely version would be “The Spring of Our Discontent.”

Except for the owners of the Zoom internet application and a few other economic beneficiaries of the COVID-19 pandemic, the general population of the world today has been rendered discontent by the virus. The reasons are many, but the most prevalent is probably the anxiety brought on by the unknown. 

When can I resume my normal life? Unknown.

Who in our midst is infected? Unknown.

When can I go back to work? Unknown.

When should I reopen my business? Unknown.

How can I pay my bills? Unknown.

Whom in government should I listen to? Unknown.

What plans in the next few months should I make or cancel? Unknown.

Will there be a second wave of the virus in the fall? Unknown.

When will a vaccine, or a cure, be available? Unknown.

You could write your own list. The main problem is that people don’t know what the future might bring — for their health, finances, plans, etc. Humans like certainty in the core areas of their lives, and they aren’t finding that nowadays.

They also find other desires difficult to satisfy this spring. 

People are generally social beings. They like interaction with others. Family life fills part of that need, and there’s plenty of that in households right now. But for school kids, or shut-ins, or those who live alone, life weighs heavily these days.

For those in essential occupations, like health care, public safety, food-related jobs or the postal service, for instance, there’s the opposite concern: who among the many people with whom I deal each day is carrying the virus? 

Doctors, nurses and others in health care institutions, of course, know most of those around them who are infected. Their concern is the ability to protect themselves from infection while simultaneously providing professional care for their patients, a difficult task at best. Their dedication deserves our admiration and our gratitude.

Life would be easier if leaders could agree on best practices. We’ve seen precious little of that in the past few weeks. There’s disagreement at every level, from Washington on down. Some states remain mostly closed, others are partially open and some now seem to throw nearly all the doors wide.

We’ll likely know down the road if reopening states and communities right now was safe or not.

If those decisions were taken too early, there will be a resurgence of spreading virus and another round of shutdowns, with subsequent economic pain similar to what we’re already trying to shake now. And of course another rise in the death curve.

There’s no shortage of test cases around the world either. Some nations retain strict enforcement of safe practices. Others seem not to be aware of the danger. 

Many of the unknowns will become known as time passes into summer and then autumn. Vaccine research already looks promising, as do some medications for easing the destruction of the virus. Thousands of researchers are working overtime to achieve those goals.

Patience is a hard thing to maintain, especially when economic pain mounts over time. 

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is more wearing of masks in public, when people need to be among other people. 

Maybe the mask is the symbol of the season this spring, a weapon against our discontent.

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