As a person of faith (however one defines it), I believe in believing. I believe in ideas. I believe in a cause much greater than myself, a calling, really. I believe in God (he and she) and the universe. I believe, therefore, I am.
But I have also been scared so many times in my life. Between my sexual assault in 1976 and my full-circle with myself in 1988-89, I was scared of everything. And I mean everything. My senses were sensitive to every sound, every smell, every inflection of hurt. My mind alert at a moment’s notice to abuse and every threat of abuse. My body in knots over the possibility that no one liked me, or worse, that people secretly did but hardly shared it. It’s amazing that I ever got a good night’s sleep before my junior year at the University of Pittsburgh!
Being scared does not negate faith. Not at all. In fact, to embrace faith fully, one has to accept their fears and why those fears exist. One has to soldier on, fear and all, anyway, if one is to surpass their fears and continue to fight, to sweat, to bleed, to think, to scramble their way through life and crises.
Since teaching my last face-to-face class at American on March 4, I have been scared, more scared than I have been since my days of homelessness at the end of the Reagan Years. I have been scared of contracting COVID-19, because I know what severe bronchitis/walking pneumonia feels like. I have been scared of unknowingly passing Coronavirus on to unsuspecting people, to cashiers and store employees, to mail and package deliverers, and to my wife and son. I have been scared of dying. I have been scared of going to a hospital, only to be turned away, or, worse still, to be intubated or ventilated. I have been scared of my wife contracting the virus and watching her try to survive this. I have been scared that my son has so tuned out the pandemic news that he will end up traumatized by the reality of it when he does tune back in.
Being scared has nearly overwhelmed me at times. I caught a mild cold the week of March 16. But I turned it into five days’ of temperature checks, of breathing tests and just-in-case medications. I checked my wife and son’s temperatures at least twice a day. I hardly slept. But then, I jumped rope at a pace only Muhammad Ali himself could’ve kept up with, and realized that it was only a cold.
It wasn’t only a cold, not for a man with mild asthma who has to look out for spring and fall allergy season. Being scared made me almost miss the fact that the winter of 2019-20 was incredibly mild, with no snow accumulation since November in the DMV. Leaves began growing on our bushes at the end of February, on our flowering trees in mid-March, and the flowers by March 30, five weeks ahead of normal. If I didn’t have asthma or allergies, it would’ve have been a beautiful sight.
Being scared left me with my worst asthmatic cough in recovering from a cold while dealing with a really high pollen count in five years. And that scared me, because even without COVID-19 inflaming my lungs, asthmatic coughing fits and alveoli on fire during allergy season is still somewhat debilitating.
Thankfully, I have folx who tell me that I am a hypochondriac these days. Thankfully, I workout regularly, and would’ve noticed fatigue, chills, fevers, and abnormal body aches by now, between the jumping rope, the planks, the plyometrics, and the water rowing. Thankfully, I keep inhalers and a stock of eucalyptus oil in the house, for these just-in-case moments.
Being scared has left me fearful of going outside, at least as long as I see other people out there with me. I have been inside a store only twice since March 31 — I’m used to shopping nearly every day — and do not plan to go back again until April 24. We have enough toilet paper for a couple of weeks, but we are short on paper towels, all-purpose flour, and liquid soap. We’ll manage.
Being scared has pissed me off, because so much of what is happening is all too predictable, even as it is also all too beyond my control. And yes, callous and craven Trump and his cronies have made this pandemic lethally worse. But, for those “but, those emails” folx who believe that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would have handled this better, ask yourselves this. Is a better demeanor and a better mobilization of resources the equivalent of stopping a virus in its tracks, sans a vaccine? Sure, maybe 750,000 people wouldn’t be infected and 40,000 people wouldn’t be dead in the US (to date). But there would still be hundreds of thousands infected and thousands dead, because neoliberalism and neoliberals also left the US underprepared for a pandemic.
Being scared in the midst of a crisis while having predicted this while working on my Narcissism, American Style manuscript and then having the audacity to read Sarah Kendzior’s Hidden in Plain Sight actually left me more rattled. But at least I know I’m not crazy for seeing the past-present-future for what it is. This will pass. This pandemic is yet another omen that America the Empire is becoming both weaker and more obviously autocratic at the same time. And while I remain a person of faith, as a wide-awake Black man in a racist-ass US, I also know America all too well.