Like everyone else in lockdown, quarantine, solitary confinement, I was bitching last week because the damn internet went down and the TV was on the fritz.
And in that moment, I thought about a family I’d read about that morning in which four people had contracted the novel coronavirus.
I felt sudden shame.
They were no longer here in this wonderful thing called life to complain about the internet being down.
I felt like an ingrate, a spoiled idiot to be complaining about something called Wifi, which didn’t even exist for the first two thirds of my life.
And which now in too many was controlling my life and made me think life without it was somehow unlivable.
As tens of thousands of people had died from COVID-19.
The shame fades fast, of course, as later in the day I found it impossible to get through to unemployment as my main job had been shut down. Ten minutes on the phone stretched to 26 and 40 and 60 and 88 before I was disconnected. I was tempted to smash my $800 iPhone off the wall as a solution to my aggravation over a $500 check.
And then, because the internet was back, I read about poor souls who had waited that long for an ambulance in this pandemic as their loved one gasped with this insidious virus that is consuming the best of us like a bad science fiction movie out of the 1950s.
I had to stop again to count my blessings in this time of Last Rites mumbled to the dying through masks.
Lady Luck is blowing on your dice, Hamill, I said to myself.
You have a brother out in a southern California desert who survived Vietnam in the 173 Airborne during the Tet Offensive who also beat the side effects of PTSD and Agent Orange and who now saw the national COVID-19 dead exceed those killed in Nam. He phoned the night before to say not only did he and family test negative for COVID-19, but they just survived an Eight Count of a damned earthquake and seven aftershocks that turned their home into a fun house.
I made myself a cup of green tea, binge-watched “Bosch” on Amazon till the sun came up, turning my clock upside down amid the serpentine plotlines of serial killers, kidnappings, and sex trafficking from the brilliant pen of Michael Connelly (who learned his writing craft as a police reporter in the daily newspaper business.) I realized one simple truth in the Age of the Plague:
Unless you have the virus, stop complaining.
Real Horror Stories
On Facebook and Twitter, across social media and in news stories, people moaned of the horrors of being sequestered like a mob jury. Religious groups in Brooklyn openly defied social distancing to attend the funerals of religious leaders who had died from — this is the killer — COVID-19. I read of funeral parlors stacking COVID-19 fallen cadavers in U-Haul trucks. “And those right-wing loonies with semi-automatic rifles stormed the state house in Michigan should be allowed to go out and kill each other with high-caliber COVID-19, which sounds like a new gun-fetish rifle.
One nursing home in Brooklyn took out 55 coronavirus corpses, men and women who’d survived the Great Depression, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, both Gulf Wars, Polio, and AIDS. Now they were carried out of this faceless human warehouse, a waiting room for eternity, because of a virus that should have been stopped much earlier except for political arrogance and incompetence starting at the top.
My rage bubbled. I ran out of F-words as fast as supermarkets were running out of another F-word called food.
Then my sister-in-law of my oldest brother texted me to remind me that five years ago, after a major health scare, my brother had been sent to that same hell hole nursing home by a doctor from a Manhattan hospital.
After one visit to this dump, we had my brother delivered home in an ambulette.
I realized in that moment that I had way more to be thankful for than to curse.
If you don’t have the bug, don’t complain.
The real horror stories come in torrents. There was one about a Holocaust survivor who had lost her family in the Nazi camps who made it to New York where she married another Holocaust survivor and started a beautiful family and a successful real estate business and made a life on Earth after a childhood in Hell. Then she broke a hip, wound up in a rehab center, and the little girl who had survived the clacking echoes of Nazi jack boots was taken when a silent killer virus crept into aging lungs.
So, when I got pissed off that the check I was expecting didn’t arrive in the morning mail, I felt shame. When I heard that the family of a childhood pal named Philly McNiff, a burly Local 40 iron worker and union officer had received news that he had succumbed to COVID-19 at 65 just as Philly was discovering that the third act of life called grand-parenting took you to greater heights than connecting the crazy high iron on the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
And here I was complaining that I ran out of coffee.
Rage Against Loneliness
On that same day I heard from all four of my kids and three of my grandkids and all of them were virus free in the beautiful boredom of hibernation.
In these days of lockdown, people bicker and fight, rage against loneliness, pace the floor or jog the rooftops, or do pushups and drink beer and text with separated lovers and make the highlight of their day viewing the fireside chats of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who brings a rare dose of sobering truth, facts, and guarded hope into the lives of otherwise rudderless New Yorkers.
You feel good for an hour.
And then you realize you are out of soup, tuna, and paper towels, and you curse circumstance and providence and your inner spoiled brat feels sorry for yourself. Then you hear the story of the selfless ER Dr. Lorna Breen who worked her heart out to save the lives of strangers in the scourge, every fading heartbeat, every last gasp of patients taking a piece of her with them to the makeshift morgues. Dr. Breen caught COVID-19, fought it like a samurai, beat it, and regained her physical health. And went for a rematch in the ER until other doctors realized that the virus had also infected her soul.
Dr. Breen had taken too much punishment, seen too much human suffering, and was sent home.
She drove south to the home of her parents where she took her own life.
And here I am, healthy in lockdown, complaining that the heroic meal delivery guy from the struggling pizzeria is late?
If you don’t have the virus, stop complaining.
Every single member of my immediate family was healthy, even my 85-year-old brother who left his house three times a week to receive dialysis — because the alternative would be formaldehyde — in a hospital filled with COVID-19 patients. And my 80-year-old recently widowed sister who has a great son, daughter-in-law, and two terrific grandkids to love and live and laugh for.
How the hell can you complain about anything if you and your family are healthy?
Especially when you think of the families of the 37,000 people in Suffolk County alone who have contracted this lethal virus?
Yes, being locked up is a colossal pain in the butt. But thousands are still sick with COVID-19, and hundreds more are still dying every day.
So, I keep reminding myself that if you don’t have the coronavirus, stop complaining.
And count your damned blessings.