Notes From a Pandemic: October 28th, 2020

by Miles Raymer

In February, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic upended daily life in America and around the world, I spent the better part of a week in Sonoma County and the Bay Area. I was there to share time and music with some of the most important people in my life. My father and I saw Courtney Barnett at a beautiful vineyard, and a few nights later my friend Jordan and I saw Caspian in San Francisco. The shows were terrific, and I had the personal luck to see my favorite songs performed by both artists (“Depreston” and “The Raven” for anyone who’s curious).

This trip would have become a special memory under normal circumstances, but the retrospective context of COVID has transformed it into a powerful symbol for what I miss most and will strive to cherish all the more when the pandemic is over. As a nonreligious materialist, I don’t have the psychological luxury of believing in an afterlife or a god-given purpose for human existence. I don’t believe the universe is benevolent or just; in fact, I believe it’s inherently hostile to the physical mechanisms that make everything we care about possible. My experience of rapture is ephemeral and contingent, rooted in the knowledge that because nothing is guaranteed every moment of pleasure and peace is precious. Time, the great life-giver and cosmic killer, doles out divinity in ever-mysterious ways and terminates everything worth living or dying for in the end.

There are so many ways to celebrate the miracle of life, but for me it doesn’t get any better than seeing live music with my friends and family. The combination of joyful closeness with loved ones, solidarity with strangers, and euphoric stimulation of the body-mind is my version of religious ecstasy. The source isn’t some intangible deity or abstract concept, but rather humanity’s creative drive, our self-generated desire to fill the universe’s aesthetic void with irrefutable beauty. It is our will to survive transformed into a commitment to thrive, a leap from mere homeostasis to energetic flourishing.

It is this leap, which softens and dissolves life’s many hardships, that so many of us now feel unable to make. Every newsflash and headline conspires to drive us to despair. Every reminder to stay in our homes and keep our distance compounds the costs of separation. Every death serves up proof of our fleeting mortality, making us even more desperate to stave off the inevitable. Every missed connection, every unconsummated love affair, every friendship that will never come to be, every family irreparably damaged––these losses course through us like cancerous blood.

It is in times when we feel most powerless that wielding whatever power we still have acquires existential importance. So let’s think for a moment about the act of voting. What does it mean to vote? What does it mean to give your own little thumbs up or down to a list of often-nauseating and always-imperfect options? Well, I won’t try to dissuade those who say it means nothing at all; I’m enough of a fatalist to know that the world is “done and done for,” as John Dewey once put it. Yes, in a fundamental way, your vote is meaningless. But is that the end of it? Are you comfortable ceding your transcendent hallucination of freedom to abstention and apathy? If even a small part of you whispers, “No,” then I invite you to consider what follows.

Having the opportunity to vote makes you a member of an inconceivably tiny fraction of the luckiest people to ever walk the earth. I believe that the noble yearning for civic freedom––for the chance to actively influence what your community does next––has been felt by every person who ever lived. But only the most fortunate have ever had a chance to satisfy this yearning just once, let alone every few years. As an American citizen, to turn your back on the vote isn’t just a direct subversion of your right to have your own voice heard, but an indirect disparagement of your fellow citizens’ rights to have theirs heard as well. If you find this argument unpersuasive, I recommend checking out this impressive statistical breakdown of why voting matters, especially if you live in a competitive district or state.

As a way to showing our support and respect for our nation’s political process, Ma and I joined Vote Forward‘s effort to get out the vote for the upcoming election. This organization makes it easy for volunteers to compose and mail personalized letters to people around the country, urging them to vote without trying to influence who or what they vote for. Ma and I prepared 200 letters together and mailed them on October 17th. More than 180,000 Americans around the country participated, and about 17 million letters were mailed, contributing an estimated $9.6 million in stamp sales to the United States Postal Service.

Ready to mail

Ready to mail

In they go!

In they go!

Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I’m voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I believe that Donald Trump represents a grave threat to democracy and decency everywhere––not just in America where his political malfeasance has been most acute. But I want to be very clear about something: If you are a Trump supporter, you are not my enemy. You are an American. You are my fellow citizen, a person as alive and valuable and full of promise as anyone, and to whom my fate and those of all other Americans are joined. That unity is worth celebrating, even amidst anger and disagreement. Regardless of who is president in 2021 or any year that follows, I will respect and defend your right to your own opinion and to equal protection and participation under our nation’s laws. I want you to live and learn and grow and love, and I will never give up trying to create a country that grants you and others the best possible chance of doing so.

A few weeks ago, I listened to the last episode (for now) of John Green’s phenomenal podcast, The Anthropocene ReviewedFittingly, the subject was plague, and like many other episodes this one made me cry. I’ll leave you with Green’s simple but profound words, which are just as true for the pandemic and this election as they are for any obstacle humanity seeks to overcome:

As the poet Robert Frost put it, “The only way out is through,” and the only good way through is together. Even when circumstances separate us––in fact, especially when they do––the way through is together.

Until next time, be well, and good luck.

Global: 44,081,789 confirmed cases, 1,168,824 deaths

United States: 8,781,354 confirmed cases, 226,752 deaths

California: 915,899 confirmed cases, 17,485 deaths

Humboldt County: 568 confirmed cases, 10 deaths