Freedom in the Pandemic Era
Mortimer Snerd was lucky. In this pandemic era of coronavirus that is hitting the country like a tidal wave, he is relatively secure in his retirement, collecting pensions from two states and social security. Relatively secure, that is, as long as the states and social security remain solvent. He’s been hunkered down, obeying the stay at home directives of his governor, and wearing a face mask when he goes out. In other words, being a good boy.
Now what to do with all this freedom and time on his hands? Some people clean closets and bake bread. Not his style. In his younger years he often thought if he had the time, he would write something. Well, now he has the time, and thus this piece.
Ezekiel Small, a lighthouse keeper, was looking for help. One day he approached Mort to see if he might be interested in doing a few shifts. “What’s involved?” Mort asked.
“Nothing,” said Small. “Just go up the stairs and take a seat in the control room.”
“What do I control?
“Nothing. It’s all automatic.”
“You mean I just sit there and do nothing?”
“What a deal. And they pay me for this?”
Mort thought: “What a deal. I do nothing and get paid for it. I’ll still have plenty of time on my hands to write.” He told Small he’d do it.
On the first day of his shift he brought his laptop and began to write. He focused on current events: Over a million confirmed cases of the virus. 70,000 dead and climbing. Some say that eventually it will climb to 200,000, which is about the population of Des Moines or Salt Lake City. Asymptomatic workers in meat processing plants are spreading the disease. Prisons and nursing homes are hot spots throughout the land. And the prez says that the more pessimistic projections are fake news and that more states should open up for business. To steal phrases from Vonnegut: And so it goes. Hi ho.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., now dead, was a famous American writer penning such notable books as Player Piano, Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, and Wampeters, Foma and Grand Falloons. He was a prisoner of war during WWII, and survived the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. His works often recalled his experiences. Some say his works are dark satire. Apparently, they were popular and sold millions. Mort doesn’t think he can imitate Vonnegut, just admire him. Mort, who did not know Vonnegut personally, admires his work. In the meantime, he gets on with his own. Hi ho.
He finds that freedom can be confining. Time on your hands means you have no excuses, and excuses are what help us get by.
Mort found his lighthouse to be very accommodating. It had a microwave, a bathroom (a head to nautical types), a desk for his laptop with a connection to wi-fi and the internet, a recliner in case he wanted to take a nap, and a panoramic view of the lake. From his perch he was able to see the iron boats go up and down the shipping lane while avoiding the rocks and shoals for which the lighthouse stood as a warning. There was nothing to do except look out the windows and reflect on such philosophical concepts like freedom. He marveled at what a compelling concept that was. For example, President Roosevelt’s four freedoms:
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, excerpted from the State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941
Not to mention M.L. King’s famous: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last!”
Or, in popular culture like Richie Haven’s song at Woodstock: “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” He guessed that said it all. Or maybe not.
How about Three Dog Night’s: “All the world over so easy to see. People everywhere just want to be free.”
His favorite, as a former resident of New Hampshire, their state motto: “Live free or die.” Not wanting to die, he asserted to be on the side of living free.
So where is all this going? He wasn’t sure. What he did know is he was free to pursue it, whatever it was.