One of my favorite films is A Man Called Ove. (And if you haven’t seen it yet, catch it on Netflix before Playtone and Tom Hanks Americanize it beyond recognition in their upcoming version.)
Ove is a discontented widower in a small town in Sweden who goes on rounds every morning in his small community to make sure things are just so, that bikes are stowed away and cats are behaving and neighbors aren’t driving on the walkways.
While Ove is a pain in the butt, I recognize this drive for order in myself. This may be because I’m part Swedish – or that I, too, am a pain in the butt. But I think it’s hardwired. I see it in my cats as they make their rounds, making sure that there’s no bat trapped behind the firescreen (happened once and has never been forgotten), that the squirrels are behaving and that “snack” arrives at 2 p.m.
And it’s certainly true of Connecticut, that “land of steady habits” as I was reminded recently by my valiant editor. These steady habits have helped Connecticut be one of two states this past week where the numbers of new cases actually dropped. Yay us! May more states adopt the patience and consistency of the Nutmeg State.
Because that’s what’s important right now. Patience and consistency. Patience, while we endure these encroachments on our normal behavior, and consistency in our application of these encroachments.
Patience and consistency are also what’s guiding the scientists investigating this virus. There are new discoveries daily as they probe the mechanism behind the Coronavirus’s attack on us at the cellular level. For those of you who’ve forgotten your “science,” the scientific method generally works as follows: investigators observe, measure, question, formulate experiments to test these questions, repeat or reformulate their experiments until they have a solid idea (also known as an hypothesis), and then share their findings with other investigators so they can test their results.
This “re-testing” of scientific results is called “peer review” and is a crucial step in scientific research. Why? Because, like my cats and like Ove, scientists have to make sure before they release their findings. Is it redundant? Yes. But redundancy, while annoying in prose, is necessary in science and in most of life.
In fact most machines have what is known as built in redundancies. Think about it — why do airplanes have a second engine? Those of us who’ve been around for a minute or two know that life’s a bet and you better have at least one fallback position if you want to make sure you don’t fall out of the sky if a flock of birds happen to fly into engine one. Either that or make sure Chesley Sullenberger is in the cockpit.
And yes, I know, there are times when a belt and suspenders is a bit ridiculous. But tell that to the man or woman embarking on a love affair. I’ll have the belt and suspenders, please, rather than an STD or an unplanned pregnancy or a trip to the pharmacy for… wait for it… Plan B.
What is a Plan B? Other than a pill that’ll help you sleep at night? Those of us old enough to remember Marty know that a Plan B is something to do on a Saturday night if your Plan A falls through. In other words, if your perfect plan fails — if your dream girl turns you down — at least you’ve got your best friend to keep you company.
In other words, you’ve got some insurance.
And there’s a whole industry built on it. Because if something happens — to our cars, our houses, our loved ones — we want to make sure that we can afford to take care of ourselves.
This principle of insurance — of “making sure” — is a bedrock of human life.
Why do high school students apply to 10 or 12 colleges? Because they want to make sure that they have options, that they aren’t cut out of the process too soon and have time to reconsider their futures.
Why do most men and women date for a while before they marry? Or rent before they buy? Or see a doctor for an annual checkup? Or invest in retirement accounts?
Because we all want to make sure that we’re protected, that we make the right choices, that we’re safe.
Which brings me to what set off this week’s train of thought. Masks. There’s been a lot of pushback lately from folks who seem to think that masks are unnecessary or ineffective or an impingement on individual rights.
Let’s start with the science — which is where many of the resisters like to start. Generally the criticism seems to be that unless a mask is equal to that worn by a medical worker, i.e. at least an N95 mask which is designed to fend off particles the size of the Coronavirus, that it’s useless.
First, let’s acknowledge that when N95 masks were in short supply, medical personnel were re-wearing them or even using home-made masks instead. I made several cloth masks for an ER doctor who couldn’t get N95 masks in March.
Why would medical personnel wear homemade masks if they didn’t “work”? Because they were better than nothing. And that in conjunction with N95 masks that were being re-worn, they helped keep the N95 masks cleaner longer.
So a mask… over a mask. A redundancy for sure. Have you seen the video of the South Korean nurses donning their protective equipment? Mask upon mask upon mask. Why? To make sure.
So the bandana or the homemade pleated mask available to most of the public, while not “perfect,” is better than nothing. It can capture larger droplets when the wearer coughs or sneezes and help keep the surrounding air we’re all breathing freer of the virus. And in conjunction with “social distancing” and fresh air and limiting the time we spend in crowds or groups or inside, we stand a better chance — not a perfect chance but a better chance — of not spreading the virus or contracting it ourselves.
And yes, it’s redundant, which is another complaint of anti-maskers.
But so are most things.
I remember a time when cars were metal boxes with engines and wheels and we were all sliding around inside. Then came seatbelts – and there was a lot of resistance to wearing them until studies by insurance companies proved their usefulness and laws were passed and the industry installed them and the police pulled you over and fined you and your insurance company refused to pay if you didn’t wear them and now lights and bells go off if you don’t put them on.
Then came airbags. Redundant? Sure. But tell that to the folks whose lives were spared or whose outcomes improved because of them.
So to those who’re complaining about wearing masks and social distancing because it’s redundant, I’d say this. With mandated seatbelts and now airbags picking up the slack, why have brakes?
Because redundancy is necessary in an imperfect world.
And not only imperfect but evolving. Just today word came out that it appears that the coronavirus has mutated in such a way that it’s becoming more contagious. Remember, the virus is a critter and a critter’s prime imperative is to survive and reproduce and this particular critter needs us to do both so any mutation that favors its prime imperative is going to thrive. So it looks like things have just gotten worse for us humans in our battle against this pest. And that we’re going to have to employ everything we’ve got in our arsenal to fight it.
So that means homemade masks until there are enough N95s for everyone, social distancing until we can all be outfitted like the boy in the bubble, fresh air, and limits on crowds and groups and time inside until we have a treatment, a cure or a vaccine. And we do all this – we accept all these encroachments on our behavior - because our healthcare workers have asked this of us in exchange for the sacrifices they’re making to take care of us.
As for why someone should care about healthcare workers or the health of others? I’m not going to get into that except to say that if you don’t care about other people, you may find another country because this country can’t afford you. Not now. Not as long as the situation is imperfect and our solutions are imperfect.(See that redundancy there? That was for emphasis.)
And who knows. We might just learn something. Because as Marty found out, sometimes you have to embrace imperfections if you’re going to have a future.
Elizabeth Page’s work as a writer and filmmaker focuses on folks impacted by social issues. Plays include Spare Parts (produced by Olympia Dukakis at Whole Theatre, Off B’way at Circle in the Square Downtown and nominated for a John Gassner Award), The Nazi Plays (Denver Theatre Centre’s US West Theatrefest) and Aryan Birth (Best Short American Plays.) Her work in television brought her six Emmy Awards and four Writers’ Guild Awards. As a filmmaker she has made lots of award winning shorts, and web pieces for artists such as Melba Moore. Her latest short film, Safe, about an accidental shooting, is currently in distribution in Europe.