From the Director: Waiting for the Break

Yesterday I yelled at my daughter for hugging a friend. My wife and I stayed home from work. Our kids had no school. We washed our hands. I read a book I’ve already forgotten. We ate and cleaned and ate again. We waited.

I don’t believe in the Rapture or the Singularity. I have a sense of the reality of climate change, or global warming, but I know from how I go about my life that I don’t believe in that either, not in a deep way. The world, I seem to think, will be what it has been. There will be no decisive break, no split, no fracture. What was before will be so after.

Yesterday the garlic shoots we planted last fall were covered in snow. I walked slowly, hands in pockets, chin tucked low behind the collar of my coat. The streets were close to empty. When I encountered someone, I crossed to the other side. 

This morning, the morning I write, the virus is here but it isn’t here. I know no one who knows they have it. I see the news from Italy, China, South Korea, Iran. I see the news from Seattle, New York, Ohio. I hear our Governor and our Mayor preach distance. I see the set of their jaws.

Today the sun is shining. The dog is hungry. Later I’ll go for a run. 

Y2K was going to be a break, a new world, and then it wasn’t; our computers still worked. 9/11 was a break of a kind, but we divide and we buy just like before. The creation of the Internet has helped me fritter better. I was born before the Vietnam War ended but I can’t really feel the mark it left. My grandparents fled the Nazis, and their parents were killed by the Nazis, but these are still largely stories to me. The world is as it has been.

For now, the virus has gone viral. Widespread disruption might breathe new life into our new and already old and meaningless metaphor. What will happen to the metaphor on the other side of the virus? What, if anything, will have happened to us?

The question now, still early and still widely dismissed, is how many lives will be lost, how many hospitals overrun, how many jobs and businesses gone. The question is how our lives will change. 

Why did I yell at my daughter yesterday? I yelled because she hugged her friend. We had been talking about contact and distance. She told me she understood. But then, as I watched through the window, her friend ran up, her friend who she hadn’t seen in a month. Her friend was smiling and had her arms out. My daughter, twelve, met the hug. 

I yelled because I was angry—my daughter had just told me she wouldn’t touch—and I yelled because I wanted to let her know that the world has changed—the rules, the consequences. I don’t yell often, or I didn’t, before. I’m yelling now to let you know: the world has changed, the terms have changed. It may not feel like that, but it’s true: the world has changed and you have to change. As proof, I changed: I became a man who yells. 

This is no way to signal or adjust to change. No way to help someone—a twelve-year-old or anyone else—recognize it. 

This was written in March. It’s April now. Am I still yelling? Are you yelling? Can my daughter hug her friend? Has the climate changed? Has anything? Have we?


Oregon Humanities Magazine, Union


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Also in this Issue

From the Director: Waiting for the Break

In Brief

Editors’ Note: Union

Reciprocity of Tradition

Organizing from the Outside

Essential but Excluded

My Parents’ Exes

The Struggles That Unite Us

The Privilege to Raise Our Voices

One Country Again


People, Places, Things