A funny thing happened on my way to becoming a lawyer.
At the end of my second year, being deeply committed to pursuing a normal law firm track after graduation, I decided that it was a great idea to have a baby before graduating. Then, with minimal effort, I got pregnant the summer between my second and third years of law school and gave birth to an adorable baby boy in the middle of my last semester of law school.
I really liked my baby, and I really loved being a mom, so I decided to put off the law career. I liked being home. I liked being around for him, so the short version of a long story is that I pursued a Ph.D. and started working from home.
Sixteen years later, I still work from home. It’s afforded me the luxury of driving my son to school every day, although there’s nothing really luxurious about waking up a slumbering teenager, especially one who is now well over 6 feet tall.
As this coronavirus crisis began to emerge, for the most part, many things in my daily life went unchanged. We already used Zoom extensively. Pajamas were already my preferred work attire.
Also, since we’re considered an essential industry connected to construction, we’ve been blessed to remain consistently busy.
I ventured out to the grocery store the other day. In an effort to avoid maddening crowds, I had not tackled Costco or Whole Foods since news of the pandemic began to ramp up. Everything seemed perfectly normal at first, then a voice came over the loudspeaker. It was a warning about coronavirus and social distancing.
I stopped in my tracks, right between the bread aisle and dairy section. It was then I noticed blue markings on the floor, taped to the ground in every direction. I realized those were markings so customers would know how far to stay from one another.
In that moment, the world stopped feeling familiar. And for the first time since this pandemic began, I felt very, very afraid.
I think we’ve all been conditioned to expect an enemy with a face or a weapon. Warnings of pending war or global warming kept us watching the skies and the seas for some catastrophic threat. We’ve readied ourselves for hurricanes, tsunamis and floods.
I don’t know that the public was really ready for this threat. I don’t know that I was ready, or that I’m ready now.
I’ve read too many articles, and I’m on all the newly formed FB groups, but I still don’t know if I understand what this is. I understand warnings that run as a ticker on my TV, or send my phone blaring, or sound emergency alarms. I understand that when there’s a threat you shelter in place, or you prepare for your utilities to go out. Then, when it’s clear, there’s an all clear and we all emerge from our homes.
I think we hoard, because we don’t know what to prepare for, we don’t know what else to do and racing to the store for toilet paper and spam is what our panicked muscle memories tell us to do.
What’s A New Normal Look Like?
This is a disaster happening in slow motion, and there’s not much we can do but watch.
People are discussing a “new normal” or a post-pandemic time when we can return to normal, but I don’t think any of us know what life beyond this looks like. I think we can hope the virus follows the normal curve of these events and we will one day get to a post-pandemic phase where any disease activity only exists at seasonal levels.
We just can’t know.
What we can be sure of is that there will be a devastating loss of life and extraordinary economic damage. If nothing else, this virus has shown us how incredibly fragile our economy was. It’s completely unclear what it will take to rebuild the economy, and the most important question is perhaps how should we rebuild the economy?
Do we simply rebuild what existed before? Should we just bail out the visitor industry? Maybe. Let’s be fair, tens of thousands of jobs matter. Those are thousands upon thousands of families that don’t know how they’re going to make rent, or car payments, or buy food. These are the economically fragile working-class families that progressives have been shouting from the rooftops about for years.
Clearly, not nearly enough people were listening.
So maybe we just restore the economy, but maybe we also owe it to ourselves and these families to think about an economy that has a little more resiliency and a lot more protection for families. Maybe the economic task forces that are being stood up need to include progressives, advocates for a green economy and representatives from the families hardest hit by this crisis?
Maybe this crisis will not only force us to rebuild Hawaii’s economy, perhaps it will also be an opportunity to build a better one.
Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.