It’s the coronavirus everywhere you go! Not the illness so much as the fear of it. I went shopping for the first time since President Trump declared a national emergency because of it. One would think we were in a state of impending war! People were looking at each other as they passed by, with that look of “So it’s come to this, has it?” or “What are we going to do now? There’s not a roll of toilet paper in town!”
And as far as that second comment about the toilet paper goes, it was true as far as I could tell. I tried four stores and called two others, and the answer was always the same, “Sorry, we’re all out.”
Isn’t it funny how, in an emergency, that some things automatically go to the bottom of the list while others shoot right to the top? This toilet paper situation reminds me of a woman named Cecilia. She was living in an Assisted Living home, in her own room, and her son was unable to visit her as much as he wanted to. He hired me to visit her several times a week so she wouldn’t feel abandoned or lonely. The thing that struck me the most about Cecelia was that because she lived through the shortages that were a result of WWII, she couldn’t bear the thought of being without toilet paper and hoarded it in her room like it would disappear from the grocery store shelves by the next day. When I first met her, she had 16 rolls of it just on her bed alone. Her dresser drawers were packed with more rolls, out-spacing her clothes.
Then I discovered more in her closet and in boxes along the wall. She didn’t hoard anything else but the toilet paper. Which brings me back to today. While other items were also missing from the shelves, the toilet paper was TOTALLY gone from every store. Paper towels and napkins were disappearing fast, but in each store, there were at least a very few left on the shelves.
As I walked around the store to do my usual shopping, it was easy to see that people were taking this “national emergency” situation to heart. All the chicken, except for a few packages of wings, was gone.
All the steaks and chops were gone. Packages of ground beef were nowhere to be found. People were asking for powdered milk, and anyone looking for their usual brand of butter would have to be satisfied with an unknown brand mixed with some oil to make it spreadable.
Some shoppers, I noticed, were walking slower and showing no signs of frustration. They had alcohol in their shopping carts, the kind you drink. And one woman told me she needed to stock up on cigarettes and cigars. Some shoppers were wearing the masks, others just walked past each other and sighed. I heard one teenager boy who was with another
male shopper call out, “Damn it all! They’re out of chicken nuggets!” Compare that to mothers looking for baby formula!
When I got to the egg department, I noticed something I had never seen before. A sign that read ONLY 3 TO A CUSTOMER. And there were very few cartons left, some of those few opened and showing cracked eggs. The kind I usually buy were nowhere in sight. Maybe in some emergencies, people will go for the “better” eggs first, the pasture-raised organic
eggs, even if they cost more. In any case, they were all snapped up.
My shopping took a decidedly different turn that day. Nobody would recognize me by the items in my shopping cart, as I imagine could be said about any number of shoppers out grocery shopping that day. But rather than get into a funk about it, I’m thinking of this whole thing as an opportunity to imagine how it was for those during WWII and being thankful we are not in war, or going into war. We may be suffering through a health situation that requires us to rethink the ways we do many things, and it may turn out for the best in the end as our habits may take a big turn for the better in many ways.
Maybe we’ll wash our hands more often, and maybe even properly — at least when we’re out in public or having come in contact with strangers. Maybe we’ll be more cognizant of keeping certain supplies in our homes so we won’t have to get all paranoid or crazy when we’re down to our last roll of toilet paper or our last bag of coffee.
Maybe we’ll even learn how to live without sugar, as others have, and be all the healthier for it in the end. Maybe we’ll even be kinder to each other, knowing we’re all in this together and who knows who will be next to be one of its victims.
Sometimes it may take some kind of a disaster for human beings to get that we are all one family on this planet, not a bunch of assorted individuals thrown together to fend for ourselves—and may the “best” person win! Rich or poor, powerful or friendless, we are a family — God’s children — and our Father does not play favorites. You will not
have special protective favors because of your wealth or your position, keeping you safe from the virus. But on the other hand, the virus will not seek you out because you don’t know how you’ll pay next month’s rent.
When I say we’re all a family, consider that someday the haughty will have to share with the homeless, and I don’t mean that the elite will have to give of their bounty to the homeless who make it a career without even trying to get out of that situation and even make life miserable for those around them by stealing their peace and security and more. (Yes, they are still part of our family, but everyone, rich or poor, needs to understand the rules of family life.) What happens to our neighbor can happen to us, and just as we think those who currently “have” will have to share with the have-nots, it could end up being the other way around. But regardless of which way it goes, we all need to care about our neighbor.
Before I end this, I need to point out something important. I live in Pahrump, not Las Vegas, so I can’t speak for the shelves in Las Vegas grocery stores. But I can tell you that it has become very noticeable to those grocery cashiers that people from Las Vegas are flooding into Pahrump to scoop up what is no longer available to them there. While it’s perfectly legal to do so, please, if you’re one of them, remember that the people who live here also need what you may be buying, even in hoarding amounts.
We are all humans and we all share the human condition. We are not going to be better off by hoarding our toilet paper any more than hoarding our milk of human kindness. If nothing else, let us use this “national emergency” to get spiritually closer to our brothers and sisters and see their plight as our own.
And it doesn’t hurt to pray for humanity as a whole.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.