When I lived on the NATO base on Iceland, there was a well-stocked video store. This was before smartphones, very few people had personal computers, and the internet was in its infancy. The scan rate on European and US televisions is different, so we couldn’t watch Icelandic TV. There was a single channel run by the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service — pronounced a-farts — that was mostly syndicated shows from the States.
In all but the worst weather, I could walk across the lava field to get a VHS tape to watch. I don’t know who bought the movies for the store, but there was quite a selection, suiting all tastes. I once overheard a woman talking to a friend, saying she didn’t get to the store early enough and all that was left was “A Room with a View.” She was saying it like that was a bad thing, but “A Room with a View” was one of my favorites.
One of the movies we could rent was “Waiting for the Moon.” It is a slow-paced, beautiful little film about Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas in France. It is an imaginary biography, but it lovingly shows a sweet, close relationship between two longtime lovers. At one point they just sit, waiting for the moon to rise. They aren’t meditating, they aren’t doing, they are just waiting.
Yesterday I realized I was just waiting. But for what? I’m not sitting peacefully, waiting for the moon.
I wake in the middle of the night with my head buzzing. New covid cases in the US hover around 30,000 each day. About 2,000 people die each day. It is on track to become the leading cause of death for 35-44 year-olds. There is no coordinated response. Some states with still-increasing numbers are opening up — opening themselves up to a surge of infection and death. Our leader fires anyone who disagrees with him and calls 1,000 newly-minted military leaders together for a photo-op. Another leader insists his 99 colleagues return to a covid hot-spot so he can continue remaking the courts in his image. The gifts to the plutocrats continue in hope that they will finally accept this coarse, unrefined kid from Queens. The edifice continues to crumble. The barbarians aren’t at the gates. They were always here, but now they are empowered, emboldened. We are witnessing the end of an era, and it hurts.
Norman Rockwell’s America didn’t exist for everyone, certainly, but it did exist at least as an aspiration. But now we’ve institutionalized greed. We demand rights without responsibility. We live in society but feel no obligation to that society. A security guard is shot and killed because he told someone entering a store to wear a mask. A possible treatment for covid is announced by a company with the same name, coincidentally, as the corrupt theocracy installed after the coup d’etat by the intolerant in Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
There are plenty of good, kind people, and I have to remember that. I am better off during this time than are many, and I am grateful. Those I love are still healthy, and I am grateful for that, too. But waiting is hard.
Behavioral scientists have found that humans don’t do well without activity. In one experiment, the subjects would give themselves electric shocks rather than just sit with nothing to do. Perhaps the beauty of “Waiting for the Moon” was that the two women were at peace. But these are not peaceful times. I am having trouble waiting in peace.
Like the frog in the pot of boiling water, how do we know when it is time to stop waiting? I’ve filled out my ballot for the primary election. It is the least I can do. It is the least you can do, too.