I Might Be Out of Toilet Paper Soon. Keep Your Distance.

Yesterday I visited Costco to get baby formula. I thought I’d be checking that off my list before things got crazy.

I arrived five minutes after the store opened. The lot was packed. I live in a part of the world where it almost never rains. It was pouring. A line of drenched members snaked from the carts to the tire center, wound through the food court, and split in two at the roll up door.

After a few minutes, the initial wave of consumers began exiting the store and finessing their toilet paper-laden carts through the perimeter of those of us who still hadn’t gained entry. I admired the strangeness of the scene. I wondered if the self-interested hoarding that soon might make it complicated to wipe my butt would also soon make it hard to get hooked up to a ventilator.

I was surprised out of my musings by a cry of distress and pain. Almost a scream. The line in front of me murmured in response.

I pulled my hood back to better survey the environment. A woman was kneeling on the soaked asphalt. She struggled to get to her feet while clutching an umbrella and two children under the age of five.

I left my cart and jogged to her. I asked if she was okay. I took one of the kids from her arms and carried him awkwardly. I offered the woman my cart and place in line. She declined. She limped away. She was crying.

I was initially baffled and somewhat proud of myself that I was the only person who moved to assist her. But after thinking about it for 24 hours, I don’t feel self-satisfied anymore. I instead wonder. If I had been hungry, or thirsty, or even just a little bit scared, would I have left that lady on the wet asphalt and guarded my place in line too?

Probably.

My primal anxieties surface in even the most inconsequential scenarios. A missed green light. My speaker losing contact with the wireless. In the privacy of my car or my living room, these petty inconveniences provoke words and behavior I would never let slip in public. Whereas the company of others invites me to pretend I am better than I am.

And now the concept of social distancing is embedded in our lexicon. Assembly with strangers for a common purpose is cancelled indefinitely. Communion is stigmatized.

For now, this is prudent. I guess.

But my biggest fear is that during this quarantine we realize nothing is much different. Through technological channels we don’t fully understand, our stoplight swearing long ago spilled out of our cars and saturated our culture. I have felt isolated and lonely for a long time.

In the coming weeks or months, maybe we will experience a renewed understanding of cabin fever as we languish in our living rooms wallowing in our uncouthness. There will be tension in our families. Many of us, it appears, have grandiose ambitions for wiping our butts.

When we emerge blinking at the new world, another stage of human evolution will have occurred. My hope is that our response to this crisis yields more than one type of cure. I will go out looking for others who are also ready for something new. I don’t want to be socially distanced anymore.