Thanksgiving is coming, and that means there are lots of articles on the Internet about holiday travels. This is nothing unusual. Every year, there are articles aplenty about that annual trip to Grandma’s house. It’s the busiest time of the year for travel. But this year, traveling is ill advised, thanks to the coronavirus. Experts are “begging” people to stay home, socially isolate, and love their family and friends enough to stay away from them for however long it takes to tame the virus. Lots of people have heeded the call and are staying home. Others are ignoring the advice and have made travel plans, COVID-19 risks be damned!
Well… given that an ocean and several countries separate me from my family, I have no problem heeding that advice. Bill and I haven’t been “home” for Thanksgiving since 2014, even though Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal in my family. Most years, there is a big reunion in Natural Bridge, Virginia. It’s gotten so huge that I don’t even know everyone who attends anymore. My aunt sensibly canceled this year’s event anyway, weeks ago. I suspect some of my relatives will be gathering in spite of the pandemic. While I don’t necessarily condone ignoring health and safety tips from the powers that be, I also know these folks well. Many of them are devout Christians and Trump supporters, and they’re simply not going to let a virus stop them from being with each other at Thanksgiving. And they’re sure as hell not going to let someone on the Internet shame them into changing their plans, either.
I will bet my Georgia relatives, in particular, will get together this year, because their sibling and my oldest cousin died last weekend and they will feel the need to gather and mourn. This branch of my family is unusually close-knit. Before their eldest sister died, there were four siblings. Among themselves, they had eleven children, and some of those children now have married and had their own kids. They all live somewhat close to each other and see each other often. One of my cousin’s daughters is about to have a baby, and another is engaged. Besides needing to mourn, they have a lot to celebrate. So I bet they’ll still gather, in spite of all of the expert advice against celebrating holidays in groups. I’ve seen them posting photos and videos of themselves living life as normal– sans masks or social distancing. Nothing I can say or do will change that reality.
My relatives aren’t the only ones who will probably be together. I just read an advice column in The New York Times entitled Ask Real Estate. Today’s question is, “Do I Really Have to Quarantine if I Visit Family for Thanksgiving?” I’m not sure what this question has to do with real estate, since it’s about visiting family during the holidays, not buying or selling a house. I guess it’s because the person lives in an apartment building in Manhattan and buildings have rules about quarantines. I actually like the answer this person got from the columnist. It’s reasonable and civil, with advice on how to lower the risks of contracting COVID-19 and running afoul of building management.
Of course, the comments are something different. COVID-19 is definitely a scary thing, and a whole lot of people have gotten sick and ended up dying. Quite a lot of people have also gotten the virus and are suffering from “long hauler” syndrome, meaning they can’t shake those lingering symptoms after the acute illness has passed. There’s also no telling whether or not the virus will lay dormant and re-emerge during times of stress, like the herpes virus does. What if, years from now, after you’ve forgotten about having had COVID-19, it roars back after you’ve had a cold?
And so it seems that a lot of people just can’t resist. They have to leave annoying, preaching, holier-than-thou comments, along with all knowing statements like “this is why we’re in this mess”. And then there are a few other statements like, “No, you don’t have to follow these ridiculous rules. We live in a free society.” Those statements always inflame the virtue signalers and shamers, and they feel compelled to respond in the most irksome way possible.
Naturally, the people who dare to post something other than, “love your family enough to stay home this year” are getting smacked down by those who insist on cajoling, pleading, demanding, nagging, and whining. I’m sure it makes people feel better to post these responses. I just wonder what good they do. Have you ever met anyone whose mind was changed because some stranger on the Internet insulted them? I don’t think I have. I know that when someone insults me, I usually withdraw from communicating with them. Even if someone doesn’t insult me by calling me a name, I probably won’t be too interested in conversing with them if they respond in a condescending manner.
I’ve seen a lot of people pointing to Asian countries as societies to look up to in this mess. One commenter on The New York Times piece wrote a lengthy story about how her son, who just moved from China to Thailand, has had to put up with all sorts of restrictions on his freedom to stop the spread of the virus. She wrote that Americans need to do what they do in Asia. I fear it will never happen because, on many levels, Asian cultures are not like western cultures. Moreover, I don’t think Asian cultures are necessarily better than western cultures are.
I mean, yes, they do some things much better than we do. In other ways, their culture is not so good. For instance, a couple of days ago, I read about how dog owners in one Chinese county aren’t allowed to walk their dogs and must keep them tied up or in a pen. Failure to comply with the rules can get the dog killed. I’ve also read about students and workers being so ashamed of not measuring up that they commit suicide. Some others die due to overwork. Or how about the guy in Singapore who was arrested for having a one man protest? It consisted of just him in a mask holding up a cardboard sign with a smiley face on it. These are just a few examples off of the top of my head.
They have a different mindset over there. Personal honor is a big deal. Some Asian ideas are well worth considering, but hard to emulate. Some Asian ideas are just plain bad– like working so hard that you die, like the young woman in Japan who clocked 159 hours of overtime in a month and then promptly dropped dead. Yes, some Asian countries are getting on top of the coronavirus by aggressively locking down and forcing people to wear masks. But their citizens are dying of other things that are less likely to be a problem in the United States or Europe, like extreme overwork or suicide because they didn’t get perfect grades.
Still, I understand why people feel the need to school others and scold them for living their lives on their own terms. Right now, the virus is spreading like wildfire. Healthcare workers are stretched to the limits. Bodies are stacking up in morgues. People have lost their jobs, their homes, and loved ones. However– it’s not just coronavirus that is killing people. Natural disasters are also deadly this year. I seem to remember a lot of people in California having to run for their lives as wildfires swept through their neighborhoods. I’ve read about hurricanes and tornados and all manner of other disasters upending and ending lives this year. And goddammit, I think some people just feel like they deserve to eat turkey and mashed potatoes with their parents and children this year. Some people think that living in solitude is worse than the threat of catching and spreading a potentially deadly communicable disease. Nothing you or I say will make a difference– except maybe if they or a loved one actually gets sick and/or dies.
Either way, it takes time for attitudes to collectively change. I suspect there will either be a treatment or a vaccine before people voluntarily start deciding to adopt the draconian rules imposed in some Asian countries. In any case, drastic changes in American attitudes are definitely not going to happen this year. Many people are bound and determined to have their turkey. They have already made up their minds and made their travel plans. And no amount of nagging, virtue signaling, and insulting from strangers on the Internet will change that reality.
Oh… but people still think their pithy, sarcastic, shaming, scolding comments will change hearts and minds… or they just feel better for having written them. I suppose it comes from feeling helpful in the face of something so tiny, yet so very powerful. There’s, maybe, a bit of a rush that comes from telling someone off. I wonder how many stop to think about how the person on the receiving end feels. Frankly, at best, they very likely won’t care. At worst, it will make them angry and more resolved to do what they want anyway. Or maybe they’ll pass along that anger to someone else. In the end, all that nagging turns into more noise that makes living through a pandemic even more annoying and soul sucking.
I’m probably wasting my time by writing this piece. People are going to do what they’re going to do. I guess what I’m trying to do is comment on a behavior I see as mostly futile and highly irritating. I think it’s very unlikely that I’m going to change anyone’s mind about their plans for the holidays. I might be able to convince someone who has any regard for my opinions… that would most likely only be Bill, and that’s just because he has to live with me. I can’t think of too many other people who care that much about what I think or want to avoid disappointing me. So I don’t tell other people what to do… I mostly try to avoid giving advice, unless they ask for it. When I do, on occasion, offer unsolicited advice, I often apologize, because I think most people are irritated by it. Sometimes you can’t help yourself– and I get that, too. I also realize that people are going to do what they’re going to do, no matter what I think or say or post on social media.
But yeah… I think the holiday season is often annoying even during normal times. It’s especially annoying this year. It’s a good thing there’s booze and ibuprofen.