Choices and Their Outcomes

I had my first Coronavirus nightmare last night, and I don’t expect it to be the last.

Walking into a supposedly ordinary gas station convenience store, I wanted something big to drink for my birthday. But as I passed by each drink station, I noticed that the cups were all wet, mismatched, partially used, or flat out missing. Around me there must have been eight to ten other people, all men, and they were coughing.

Eventually settling on an icee, I noticed that the machine was broken, and continuously poured, to the point where I had to shove something in its spout to get it to stop.

When I got to the cashier, I noticed I had someone else’s credit card. _______ Mendez was the name.

And that is when I woke up.

Did you know that COVID-19 can last 72 hours on metal and plastic?

And it is obvious that everything in the store is leaking, including the customers. Even now, fully awake, I am recoiling at the fear and anxiety of my surroundings.

Adulthood is all about paranoia. It’s anybody’s guess if the choices we’re making are the right ones. Or, more horribly, if the choices we’re making are going to be what it takes for our life to sail above the rest. John Updike used to say that being rich was simply being richer than your neighbors.

Paranoia develops when you constantly question whether the choices you make end up bringing you “success.” Whatever that means in an era where a virus can affect a twenty year old soccer coach just as much as an eighty year old who has retired.

In any case, I made some choices this year that at first seemed silly and unorthodox but turned out to be the best decisions, given the current predicament. My family has never been photocentric, and so the portraits and printed scrapbooks our family has are so few. Each time my parents have a photograph of who they were before my sister and I were born, it was taken by someone else.

And yet this year I bought a camera.

Who could have predicted that not only would I use the camera almost daily, but that it would be the method for reaching out to the world and to my students in the prevailing months of the cancelled world?

My wife and I upgraded our phones for the first time in four years. And now we are fortunate enough to scour the internet at blinding speeds, listen to audiobooks to our hearts content, and write emails at such a faster pace that it is giving us real time back during the day.

No one wants to be told that the decisions they make will ultimately destroy them.

But also, and just as perniciously, no one wants to make decisions in life that are just for the sake of incredible profit and success. Because, as Donna Tartt has written in The Goldfinch: “what if one happens to be possessed of a heart that cannot be trusted?”

Although we have some obvious guidelines we’re told as children (don’t do crystal meth), ultimately the choices that we make must be based on whether that choice helps us to be the kind of older person we look forward to being.

See the person suit you want to climb into, and then become that person.

It is an American answer, but it is the only answer I can find right now.

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