By Jamie Etheridge
When we were kids, after my father died and left us broke and bereft in Alabama, my mother took on the role of family worrier. Each time one of her seven children left the house to go to school or work or even just up the street to the corner market or over to a friend’s house, she’d call out “Be careful” as we walked out the door. Wrapped inside her plea were also all the words that she didn’t say: “Stay safe. Come home. I love you.”
She worried that the worst might happen. That we’d be killed in a car wreck or swallowed by a random, yet fierce, tornado. She watched the clock while carrying on cooking or cleaning or finishing her work around the house, mindful of how long we’d been gone, what time we’d said we’d be home.
My mom said ‘Be careful’ so often that it became a reflex, automatic – and we children stopped hearing it, waving goodbye with the flick of our wrist or a wry smile as we headed off to whatever adventure awaited. My mother worried the entire time we were gone, sighing with relief only after we’d traipsed back through the front door, trailing whatever news or experiences we’d brought with us.
In all her worries, I’m guessing she never imagined the apocalypse as a tiny, viral organism leaping blithely from person to person across the globe. She never imagined a scenario where millions of people became destitute overnight, where despair and desperation led to a breakdown of law and order, where hospitals overflow with sick patients and triage protocols determine in advance who will live and who will die because there aren’t enough beds or ventilators to treat them all.
My mother’s entreaty meant watch out for drunk drivers and don’t get into cars with strangers, not wash your hands a hundred times daily, stand two meters apart and pray to God that the virus either passes you by completely or that you are among the majority who get sick but not critically so.
We are not in the apocalypse yet. But we’re edging closer to it. COVID-19 infections have reached almost two million cases globally and more than 114,000 people have died. Economies have ground to a near standstill and millions are facing destitution. This situation will only worsen the longer it takes to overcome this pandemic. Only by coming together and working united can we get through this and rebuild. Now is the time when we all need to be more careful.