By Ann Fisher-Wirth
My beloved California, where I grew up, is burning. Parts of Oregon are burning. My online Pomona College alumni group is posting photographs of the night-dark sky that prevails even at midday, and the ashes and cinders that cling to their plants and sidewalks and cars. One friend, in Chico, said it is like living in the tenth circle of Hell. My son has packed his car and bought a carrying case for his cat, in case he needs to evacuate from Portland. My older daughter and her family are preparing to leave Berkeley, where they can’t even go outside to walk the dog, to spend a month or two with my younger daughter’s family in Massachusetts.
Here in Oxford, where I’ve lived and taught at the University of Mississippi since 1988, Covid is spreading like wildfire—a tired but apt cliché—among a student body that refuses to take it seriously. And Covid is spreading among people who have no options but to keep working, and inadequate access to health care if they do become ill. Many of these are people of color. Mississippi, which refused Medicaid, is the poorest state in the Union, and the Mississippi State Department of Health has recently reported:
Mississippi ranks last, or close to last, in almost every leading health outcome. In Mississippi and nationwide, these health disparities are significantly worse for those who have systematically faced obstacles to health due to their socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, geographic location, and other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion. . . . The result is a disproportionate burden of disease and illness that is borne by racial and ethnic minority populations and the rural and urban poor. (https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/44,0,236.html)
The man we are forced to call President is a disgrace to the office and a disgrace to humanity. He is a crook, a liar, a racist, and a bigot. He grossly under-represented the severity of Covid, so, he says, people wouldn’t “panic.” He has called the military dead “losers,” has said he doesn’t want the military wounded to march in parades. He has threatened to cut funding from Democrat-run states, has sent federal troops to break up Black Lives Matter demonstrations. He stokes divisiveness and hatred, and is destroying the environment. My husband, mostly a level-headed man, is not prone to exaggeration. But when I could not sleep last night, and woke him at 4:00 to say, “It’s like Armageddon,” he answered, “Yes, it is.”
One high point of my life these past five months has been zooming with four of our grandchildren. We have story hour. At first it was every day, but now it’s down to three days a week. I’ve read them Matilda, The Witches, Treasure Island, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Heidi, Can I Get There By Candlelight?, Sarah Plain and Tall, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, D’Aulaire’s Book of Trolls, D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths, Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter. . . we got halfway through Where the Red Fern Grows but had to stop when the kid dies. The eight-year-old, in California, leans right up to the screen, and listens wide-eyed. Sometimes she cracks up; she’s my little Sarah Bernhardt. The ten-year-old wraps up in a blanket and listens from his bed; he’s in Massachusetts, and it’s bedtime for him. The two oldest, eleven and fourteen, listen from the sidelines, and sometimes their mothers, my daughters, listen too. Reading to them reminds me what life should feel like—as does teaching yoga nidra, which is deep relaxation or waking-sleep yoga, which I do on Friday mornings, by zoom, for several friends. As does teaching my classes by zoom, or working in my yard. Above all, as does snuggling with my husband; lately we’ve been watching Foyle’s War on my laptop in bed. Life has its enormous sweetness—its joy, love, beauty—but who would have believed ignorance, selfishness, corruption, and greed could have brought us to this pass?
For that, I’m furious.