Despite the horrors COVID-19 has wreaked on families, human bodies, economies and our society I think most of us agree there are silver linings to be found. We saw communities coming together in beautiful ways…entire neighborhoods singing from their balconies in Italy, people lining the streets to clap for first responders and medical professionals as they ended their shifts and people working through the night to sew masks for their friends, family, communities and local hospitals. There have been so many stories of love and kindness and beauty during this awful scary uncertain time, but my own personal silver lining story actually comes from the hate and anger this pandemic has brought out in us.
Like so many others whose jobs allowed it, in mid-March my co-workers and I began working from home. We forwarded our phones to voicemail and, in addition to my other duties, it was my job to listen to these messages and direct the caller to the appropriate person. I work for a local public agency, so we receive a lot of calls from frustrated members of the public even when there is not a pandemic, but COVID-19 took it to a whole new level. The number of emails popping up in my in box notifying me that a new voicemail had arrived was overwhelming in and of itself, but the content became unbearable. So much hate. So much anger. It was unbelievable. Incomprehensible really. And yet it just kept coming. It was as if someone had taken a rubber tube, stabbed it into my neck and just started pouring in hate and anger.
People would call and scream about how pathetic our local elected officials were for allowing the public health officer to implement a shelter in place order. They would scream about how stupid these elected officials were for not implementing stricter shelter in place orders. They would scream about things like the fact that they weren’t allowed to golf or get their hair done or go out to dinner. They would let loose the rage that was brought on because they couldn’t get their watch fixed, go to a movie, have friends over for dinner. For a time the then-public health officer prohibited gardeners from working, which sent people into an absolute rage. The messages were all high-pitched screams of ‘they are outside’ and ‘I don’t even talk to them’ and ‘they certainly don’t come into my house’. The callers were informed that the risk was to the gardeners who came from different households and in most cases rode around in a vehicle together all day, putting everyone in the car and their respective households at risk of contracting and spreading the disease. They did not care. They needed their lawns mowed and their leaves blown. That was more important.
These messages sometimes went on for five minutes, and there were typically 20 or more messages per day. Screaming. Name calling. Accusations levied against whoever was listening to the messages. You are all lazy pieces of shit. I pay your salary and you don’t even answer the fucking phone. Tell me how you are going to fix this. Governor Newsom is a piece of shit. Donald Trump is a piece of shit. Governor Newsom is our hero. Donald Trump is the second coming of Christ. There have only been 11 people in our county who died, that’s nothing. People with pre-existing conditions can stay home. People should wear masks because they are putting me in danger. A lady at the grocery store walked too close to me and she wasn’t wearing a mask. I won’t wear a fucking mask and I purposely walk close to any sheep I see wearing a mask just to see the fear in their eyes. All of these things and more were screamed into my ear day in and day out for more than a month.
On April 18th the mayor of the city I live in was killed in a plane crash. Just prior to that he had stirred up a storm on social media by making disparaging comments about Trump supporters, comparing them to KKK members. His comments were harsh and there was plenty of debate about whether or not they were justified. I’m not sure how long it was after his death that national news outlets began to pick up the story of the mayor who had spoken ill of Trump supporters and within a week or so was killed in a plane crash. People who did not agree with his comments began flooding local social media with comments about karma and God’s will, etc., while others reminded people to be kind and think of his family.
A day or so later I got a notification of a new message so I called my voicemail an punched in the code. I listened as a man from some far away state said in a very subdued and sympathetic tone, “Hey. I heard that your mayor died,” and then with enthusiasm said, “and I’m glad to hear he’s dead.” He went on to talk about how he was a Trump supporter and how wrong it was for the mayor to say nasty things about Trump supporters and that karma got him and that it made him so happy to hear the mayor had died. And you know what? He really was happy. I could hear the joy in his voice. It was totally disturbing. I remember feeling like I was going to just buckle, emotionally. I simply had no more room for all the hate. His words and his ugly ugly joy were heavy in my heart, but there was this one thing that stopped me from falling…when he first said he was glad the mayor was dead, I heard in the background, over the sound of a TV, someone make some sort of exclamation of surprise and disapproval at his words. This tiny little half a second utterance was just enough to keep me in the game. Like a tiny drop of humanity had fallen into a ten-thousand-gallon vat of hate and overpowered it all.
This is my silver lining: It wasn’t until I took in so much hate and anger from others that I realized how much of my own I have been carrying around for years and years. I had grown so used to hauling these feelings around with me I didn’t even know they were there until more and more showed up that looked and felt just like them and I was like, Oh, that’s what that is. It was a sort of immersion therapy I suppose, and looking on the bright side, I didn’t have to pay for it.
I am done with the wholesale peddling of anger. I’m done being a part of it. I’m done hearing it. I’m just over it. Obviously there are still situations that make me angry and frustrated and really really question the lack of humanity in some people, but as far as just walking around in a constant state of simmering anger about who knows what from who knows where, I’m done. (As evidence, even my husband has noticed that my chronic road rage has evaporated.) It’s time to pinpoint my own frustrations, face my own sorrows and grief, and get on with the business of letting love’s light shine. Although I owe some debt of gratitude to the haters who have shown me what I don’t want to be, I am sorry for your suffering. My hope is that you one day find a way to be free.