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What the Dickens

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an international panic, it was a personal crisis, it was a freak of nature, it was a governmental conspiracy, it was the death-blow to globalism, it was the death-blow to localism, it was an extended vacation, it was an interminable grounding, we we were in it together, we could kill each other coughing, we had unbroken family time, we had cordoned corners for everyone’s Zoom meetings, we were riding bikes and planting gardens and doing home projects, we were hoarding beans and hand sanitizer and toilet paper, we were all going to succumb to coronavirus, we were all going to succumb to cabin fever—in short, the period was so far like nothing we had ever experienced, that some of its noisiest analysts insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, as a foretaste of the Age to Come.

There was a president with a large jaw and plain face, in the Oval Office; there was a speaker with a large jaw and fairer face, in the House. In both offices it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State competitors in elections, that things in general were as unsettled as could be.

It was the year of Our Lord two thousand and twenty. At First Things, Rusty Reno deplored our cowardly capitulation to the spirit of fear; at American Conservative, Rod Dreher deplored our foolhardy refusal to interrupt the usual. Everyone stayed home from work, except, of course, for grocery baggers and coffee shop baristas and mailmen and the delivery crews of Amazon and FedEx and UPS and farmers and firefighters and policemen and medical workers and car mechanics and gas station attendants and anyone who sold snacks and face masks. The whole nation became homeschoolers, doing school in their pajamas and being unsocialized—embarrassing facts which were fortunately disguised by new coinages such as “remote learning” and “self-isolation.” The closing of parks, beaches, and state preserves forced pedestrians to the sidewalks where, though the scenery was less varied, the conversation scintillated among people making the acquaintance of the strangers with whom they had lived next-door for decades; while grocery stores became the new destination for children begging to go on adventures and women wanting a reason to get dressed up. Only an alien spectator would have found anything sinister in the new fad of homemade face-masks, garbing everyone in the stock costume of the Western film’s bank-robber, or in the complete cessation of hugs and handshakes and high-fives and all immemorial expressions of human camaraderie; and only the specter of Pandemic—imagined? real?—could have smiled upon it all.

All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the spring of the year two thousand and twenty. And the spectators, and the Specter, and the sufferers and the scorners, counted restlessly on the calendar the months that lay before them.

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