A Society Living in Fear

Last night I began looking, as I often do late in the evening, at photographs that had been taken months ago, a year ago, two years ago. We can do this so very easily now, what with Google Photos, Apple Photos, cloud storage systems that store our photos in perpetuity. There is something to be said about their storage of these photos, how they collect these memories, perhaps harvesting that data for purposes unclear. But this is not that.

No, what I realized looking at these photos, specifically the ones dating to January or February, was how my wife and child smiled in them — how they played, rather carelessly, in the videos that accompanied the pictures. I thought, looking back at them, that this was what life looked like before it all changed, before the virus came, before the cities went up in flames, before the poverty struck, and the deep-seated anger hidden inside of many revealed itself anew.

The world had gone mad in the months right afterward; looking back, you realized that nothing would ever be the same. Each day now, you heard talks about vaccines and therapeutics, testing. These were things that could help, you thought, and yet it all seemed so very far away. The vaccines were just around the corner, or so you believed — but they were not, because that’s just not how this particular narrative went.

Children would grow up under the specter of the virus, their learning and movement crippled by an inability to become close with any others, fearing contagion. Parties and social gatherings of any sort would come fraught with anxiety; again, for fear of contagion. Contagion became the thing that held sway in the back of your mind, forever and always. What could you do, provided you knew you would not get sick. Little, it seemed.

Politicians and government might have controlled it, this virus, though even that, you were not sure. In truth, they could only do very little; implement a testing program, produce ventilators, ask people to wear masks. Masks were a big thing, they could prevent a lot of spread. But even the masks, you wondered — are they really doing anything, or are they simply a tool to help you feel good?

There was a joy in those pictures, a joy which, today, I do not see. We are not unhappy, but we are not happy. We are a society that lives in fear.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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