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THE PANDEMIC DIARIES: "There's No Place Like Home..."

March 23, 2020. Day 11

Growing up, The Wizard of Oz was my favorite movie. It was on TV once a year every year and I lived all year to watch it. Unfortunately, this also meant that in the weeks leading up to the showing, my mother had unlimited leverage over my behavior. There was no way I was going to risk being sent to my room that night for any of the multitude of behaviors she considered disobedience.

So The Wizard of Oz and all its symbols and meanings and characters are deeply ingrained in my psyche and last night, when I unfortunately awoke around 3AM and started thinking which turned into worrying about—well everything—I suddenly found the images to describe what all this feels like. And I know I keep writing about what this feels like, in different ways, but that’s where my brain seems to keep returning. It’s trying desperately to understand what this is, so it keeps making stories about it.

As of a few weeks ago, when the pandemic was unfolding in other parts of the world, it was like those moments on Dorothy’s farm in Kansas when she first saw the tornado coming, but it was still somewhere in the distance. The winds kicked up, tumbleweed started blowing and leaves flew off the trees. She knew trouble was approaching and started calling for Auntie Em and Toto. The ominous funnel cloud was bearing down on her, so she pulled open the garden gate and ran for the shelter of home, the gate coming loose and blowing away behind her. With the tornado almost upon her, she finally runs into the house and up to her bedroom for whatever comes next.

That was us, eleven days ago when the pandemic slammed into New York and Washington State.

Now our collective house has been taken off its foundations and we are tumbling through the sky and out of control. Through our windows are ominous black clouds filled not with the uprooted trees and flying houses of Dorothy’s tornado, but masks and ventilators, closed schools and businesses, empty streets, bickering politicians, sick people with oxygen masks, overrun hospitals, and numbers: the Dow Jones in red, daily tolls of new cases and new deaths, and of course, shopping carts filled with toilet paper. And the Wicked Witch who flies by on her broom to cackle at us is instead a man and his skin is not green but orange.

We will be careening around like this for weeks, maybe months, not knowing when or where or what it will look like when we land. Many things will be shattered and unrecognizable when it’s all over, I suspect. The Earth will probably look pretty spectacular, having had a nice long break from us, but we will be worse for the wear. Dorothy had to start all over in a strange land and embark on a harrowing journey, only to end up back home and grateful for it.

I’m wondering if there’s any way we can shortcut through that whole part about evil witches sending flying monkeys to destroy us, and pompous blowhard men hiding behind curtains who tell us lies? Can we just promise to be grateful and go back to our lives the way they used to be? Actually, if I’m wishing, can we get a do-over of 2016 if we promise not to screw it up this time?

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