Certain personal and social disciplines I have tried and often failed to cultivate in life have been made simpler, if not plain mandatory, by Covid quarantine, and I get the feeling I will always look back at this time as a fortuitous if traumatic system reset.
Some of these disciplines have to do with spending, some with diet, some with conscious habits of consumption and conservation. I don’t think this is what the Grateful Dead meant with their song “Saint of Circumstance.” Actually, I have no idea what the Grateful Dead meant with their song “Saint of Circumstance.” But at this moment, if the halo fits, wear it. Some achieve piety and purity via a grueling path of ascetic and volitional privation and the searching interrogation of their own desires; others have it thrust upon them by their Governor.
Suddenly, we cook more, waste less. Our carbon footprint shrinks to something that would nearly please Bill McKibben, but not quite. Meanwhile, lost income reignites interest in the shit we already have, weaning off us the grueling gratification cycle of materialist capitalism. Values are recalibrated and reoriented in so many meaningful ways. This is not news. There’s a whole army of clichés out there about the worst of times and the best within us.
But this Coronaverse is its own kind of moral Upside Down. The involuntary restraint I now enjoy with eating and drinking out, for example, feels good, feels virtuous, and provides a not insignificant offset to lost income. Then I drive through the village of New Paltz and I see restauranteurs, some of whom I know personally, loitering in front of their empty establishments, looking helpless, haggard and fretful, wondering if they’re ever going to make it back. Some of them opened on the virtual eve of this socio-economic cataclysm—the Himalayan pho place in the former Cafeteria, the Dominican joint uptown, and Luna, the former Village Tea Room on Plattekill.
And suddenly, ordering in is the thing touched with the nimbus of virtue and community awareness, and my austerity seems selfish. Par for the course, I guess, in a world where the best thing we can do for each other is actual nothing.