Even if you’re not a Robert Heinlein fan, this pandemic can make you feel like a stranger in a strange land. I’ve used the upside down emoji more times than I can count as it perfectly expresses how I’m feeling: inverted, but with a little smile on my face because, well, I agree with those friends who think that some good has already come from our changed world, and more may be on the horizon. Yes, you’re hearing this from someone who is no stranger to the dark side in these pages. So, as an example of how quickly shift happens these days, let me just mention two things that are in orbit for me right now, both of them new. Photo by Juli Kosolapova on Unsplash
I. Last fall, I became a member of a newly-formed book group, most of us women of a certain age with sufficient differences of backgrounds and views to make discussions lively. We started meeting in each others’ homes, with socializing and food always an important component. But now, like so much else in this strange landscape, we’re holding our monthly discussions on Zoom. For some of us getting used to the meeting technology was and is a quick study and we’ve taken to it like the proverbial web-footed to water. So, we mentor our sisters. Video conferencing is also the only way we can gather in the summer when we are geographically dispersed. After a session or two, we all got the hang of muting when not speaking, and some may be experimenting with the feature that helps you look your best in that little lighted box, whether you’re in pajamas or haven’t had a haircut or manicure since January.
There’s a serendipitous glitch in the program caused by distance and terrain, evidently mountainous: a slight lag between one speaker and the next. Musicians find this intolerable and most professional video conferencing involving music or dance, has found ways around it. If you watch CNN, you have probably grown so accustomed to that slight pause between question and answer, you no longer find it odd. For my money, that extra beat or two of silence promotes better attention, patience and possibly even respect. We’re obliged to simply wait. “I speak, you wait. You speak, I wait,” as my friend, Sylvia, puts it. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.
II. Here’s an article from Motif, a newsletter based in Providence, RI, where I am now, that covers news, events, music, shows, film, art. If the pandemic has sharpened your concern about our very sick healthcare system, a recent article, No Doctor? No Problem! offers a different perspective. It resonated with me because:
1. Although I deeply respect the professionals who devote their lives to the healing arts and sciences, the system in which they — and all Americans — are all currently trapped, needs more than tweaks. It needs a revolution. You probably know the stats as well as I do: how much we spend on healthcare vs. our dismal metrics compared to the rest of the developed world. We may also be the most over-prescribed population in the world, and certainly have among the highest rates of drug, including prescription drug, addiction. This is intolerable.
2. Pandemic has postponed all but the most urgent procedures to make room for Covid patients. These ‘routine’ procedures include annual physicals, redundant tests, and some elective surgeries. This hurts the business of medicine immediately, of course, and possibly permanently. But it also raises these questions: are we over-medicalized as a nation? are we paying too much for below par care? are there some circumstances when less is more? The fact that even emergency rooms have started to have fewer non-Covid-related visits suggests this could be true. Elder care and end of life care, are two categories I’m actively concerned about given my age and age cohort. If you are also, get hold of a copy of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. There is a readers’ discussion guide in the back. You could consider warming up by forming an ad hoc reading/discussion group based on the Motif article.
Our groups next book selection is Jane Austen’s posthumously published Persuasion. Though written in English, the language is so of its period, you have to slow down, sometimes circle back. Yet I’m finding much to appreciate about the author’s witty skewering of the landed gentry with their endless amusements and schemes to preserve their wealth and status. Without a class system and convenient wars that built fortunes, Austen’s world could not have existed. No less ours.
Signing off with another back-to-the-future idea: now that human habitation of Mars has become a thing, I’m thinking Stranger in a Strange Land could reward a second reading. Maybe dig out your copy of the other cult classic of its moment, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig while you’re at it. Stranger things have happened. Time expands. Waiting is.