I. He was standing outside of the homeless shelter. The bouquet of bright tulips in his hand were splashes of color against the tired cement walls and grey skies.
A man staying in the shelter ambled towards him. “Hi,” he greeted, his eyes gazing at the buds of the young tulips. “Is today a good day or a bad day?”
The shelter manager laughed and warmly responded, “Why are you asking me that?”
“Because you got flowers….” the man said.
After a pause, the shelter manager reassured, “These are ‘congratulations’ flowers.”
“Oh, okay, good,” the man said. The wrinkles around his eyes revealed the smile that his mask obscured. “Congratulations.”
II. Earlier this year, I wrote:
We know from history that pandemics do not last forever. The 1918 flu pandemic lasted just over two years. The 2002 SARS outbreak was declared over in less than two years. The 2013 Ebola epidemic persisted for less than three years. All things change, all things end.
By the end of 2020, I had already read some literature about protecting mental health during epidemics. This information gave me confidence to share with others that, yes, pandemics do end in two to three years’ time.
Last month, I finally embraced “that the Covid pandemic will likely end for the majority of people in the US before it ends for those of us who work in and use safety net programs“. And only in the past week did I finally recognize that these past epidemics and pandemics of course did not end in two to three years. That just seems to be the duration of time that societies can tolerate abrupt social restrictions and consequences.
I interpreted the published timelines as start and end dates of biological phenomena.
I feel foolish for having done so. Time is an artificial construct, so of course the expiration dates of pandemics are artificial constructs, too.
Someone somewhere can explain why two to three years is the maximum amount of time that people and societies can tolerate drastic changes before reverting “back to normal”. Of course, there is no way any of us can ever go “back”, pandemic or not.
III. The author of this tweet has since deleted it for reasons that will be apparent (profile photo modified by yours truly):
The tweet is dehumanizing, but that’s not actually the chief reason why this struck me.
The author of this tweet is a Big Name in the field of psychiatry. He is the chair of a Fancy Pants psychiatry department at a Hoity-Toity institution. He’s published seminal papers in the field related to psychotic disorders.
Over ten years ago I completed a fellowship at this institution (this is not meant to be a humblebrag, I promise) and I have a distinct memory from when Dr. Big Name when he spoke at the graduation ceremony. He grasped both sides of the lectern, leaned forward in his dark suit, and glowered at the audience.
“As a graduate of This Place, you now have a responsibility to This Place. Whatever you say, whatever you do, is a reflection on us. Make sure you don’t ever do anything that will reflect poorly on This Place.”
It was strange and uncomfortable. His warning about reputation management during a rite of passage was, in of itself, something that didn’t reflect well on That Place. Which is exactly why this memory resurfaced when I saw his tweet.
May God spare all of us and may we all avoid these errors, in public and in private.