A few days a week I run to the top of the tallest hill by my house. (Oh have I mentioned?–I’m a runner now.) The road that goes up the hill is quiet. There are few houses and no shops. A long long time ago glaciers inched across New York State slowly pushing rocks aside into big piles which made the hill that I now run to. Because of all the rocks the hills were bad land for farming. So they became cemeteries and parks–a line of green that cuts through Brooklyn and Queens. (If you look at a map you can see it–from Greenwood Cemetery to Prospect Park through Crown Heights–named for its “hill”–to Highland Park and Forest Park–that’s all one long hill.)
Today when I get to the top of the hill I see about twenty people dressed in black and a patch of dirt recently disturbed. The stoplight here makes it convenient for me to pause and curiously look on. This is not just any funeral, but a funeral in the time of COVID. What is the story, I wonder. Who died and how. Also I wonder, is this allowed? (Every day now I ask this question about many things.)
I note: people at this funeral are not social distancing. I note also: most of the attendees are black. There is another curious white woman bystander. She is in a van stopped at the light. She rolls down her window and sticks out her head and yells at the funeral-goers: “Social distancing!” That is my cue to flee the scene. (Run, run away from conflict!)
So here we have: another thing to fight about. As if we didn’t have enough things to yell at people for. Social distancing is the new politically correct. We’ve got a brand new good side and a brand new bad side. (Or are they the same old good side and bad side?) The right side and the wrong side. And I have a confession to make: I’m not really sure which side I’m on.
I mean, I am not trying to liberate Michigan. I mean, when I go to the grocery store I follow the rules–the six feet, the masks, etc. etc. But in my head–I revolt. I don’t know what to say except: something about this feels so wrong.
I try to explain my internal rebellion to myself. Maybe it has to do with recent past: I used to come into close contact with hundreds of people every week but I’ve given that up and as if that isn’t enough now you’re telling me we’re supposed to stop hugging our friends (?!). Maybe it’s because I have a habit of taking risks and over the years I have developed a skepticism of laws and customs designed to “keep us safe.” (I think things that “keep us safe” often have more to do with protecting money and status quo than actually saving lives.) But maybe the reason goes beyond all of that: I was raised in a western culture that values the individual above the collective. My rights above your well being. And that can’t be good, can it?
The bottom line is I can’t figure it out. The good, the bad. The right, the wrong. But then again, what is life if not something full of nuance? What is life if not a series of mysterious exceptions to the rule?
I’m not trying to take sides here but I do want to say: Be quiet. Let the people have their funeral in peace. Just let them be.