As I write, the country is sliding toward a crisis situation. The government has decreed a blanket closing of all schools till the new school year starts in April, causing parents, teachers, grandparents, and daycare center employees to scrabble for back-up plans. Events are being cancelled at an alarming rate, and people are preparing to hunker down in their homes for the duration. Photos are appearing on the Internet with directions on how to make your own face masks. The news is full of dire statistics, tales of increasing numbers of cases and even relapses around the country. The fiasco of the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantine, a couple of weeks ago, almost seems like a bad dream now. If you believe the government and the pundits, the worst is yet to come.
Long lines form around the block of people trying to get into drug stores to snag the last few available paper products (tissues, paper towels, toilet paper) from the shelves. Face masks and antiseptic wipes disappeared days ago. Panic has begun, especially in the cities.
I myself, living in a remote area, am in some ways better off than most. For me the world is not going to end if there is no toilet paper – it almost seems as if I had been thriftily keeping all those old towels and sheets for just this kind of emergency. I have some food squirrelled away in my freezer and outdoor vegetable “cage”, not to mention bags of rice in the rice cabinet. As long as the water and electricity hold out, I’m pretty OK for now. Plus, I am alone, so I have no immediate family members to worry about as well as myself.
Of course there are drawbacks to being far from a city, as well. We would be the last to receive vaccines and supplies, or at least very low on the list. There’s no doubt that in many ways, even without this present disaster, the countryside is well on the way to being forgotten by the rest of Japan. (But that’s a subject for another blog post.) If I had a medical emergency (she writes, while feeling the twinges of a sizeable gallstone) would I be able to get care – and how would I get to it if I couldn’t drive myself? Ask a neighbor, I suppose.
Still, I keep a tight hold on myself and refuse to descend into the black mindlessness of panic. So what if my long-awaited events have been cancelled – all I have to do is sit at home. I have plenty to keep me occupied, including writing this blog. And thank goodness, I am within a push button’s distance of many friends and well-wishers on social media. Also, I have time to think about what’s going on in less fortunate places. Here are a few of the things I think about…
Why toilet paper? It seems that every time there is some sort of crisis in Japan, people go straight for the toilet paper. It has taken on a sort of Keystone Cops feeling. But surely there are things more necessary than that. If things get a lot worse and, for example, there is no longer water to flush toilets, a shortage of TP will be the least of our problems. Other items now experiencing a “run” are instant foodstuffs like ramen noodles. Excuse me? How are we going to keep alive on junk like that? Surely a nice package of beans to supplement our rice, along with some kind of flavoring, makes more sense. I have a feeling there is a psychological element in this. TP and ramen represent “situation normal” (SN). But if we rely on such things for our continued comfort, the last part of that well-known saying from WWII – “AFU” – may be awaiting us.
Does anyone really need 500 or 1000 rolls of toilet paper? Or multiple boxes of face masks? Probably not, unless you are trying to supply a care home. No, the suspicion is growing that these items are being hoarded to sell at high prices when the shortages really begin to bite. (Meanwhile the TP manufacturers in Japan are trying to reassure people that no, the supply will not be interrupted. But is anyone listening?) My feeling is that anyone who tries to make money in a crisis, anyone whose first thought is “How can I turn this to my advantage?”, is the lowest kind of lowlife. Yet it has happened consistently throughout history.
To be concerned for one’s own family, to think “Look out for number one” in a crisis is a natural human response. As the mind becomes obliterated by panic, especially when we are being given conflicting advice and inexplicable commands by those we have been conditioned to trust, thoughts about the welfare of our fellows can go straight out the window. If one package of toilet paper is good and necessary, two or five or ten must be better. If I don’t get it, someone else will.
But why not let someone else get it? This is where mindlessness becomes thoughtlessness. If everyone bought a reasonable amount of masks or toilet paper, there would probably be just about enough for everyone, because this particular crisis isn’t slated to last very long. And if it does, as I have said, there will be many more critical things to think about. How is my situation any more desperate (except for special circumstances) than my neighbor’s? And if I separate myself from my neighbor, if I cut myself off from all the others who are in the same boat as me, how long before I abandon my own family members too, and think, “As long as I’m OK…”?
I think plenty of people want to be reasonable, and take only their fair share. But their good thoughts are rendered useless by the thoughtless people. How far does separation from our fellow man go? Will a time come when we are all at each other’s throats over a roll of toilet paper? Every man’s butt for itself?
If such a time comes, I hope and believe it won’t be over this particular crisis. I hope and believe that it will turn out to be largely a Boy Who Cried Wolf situation. I prefer to ponder what this situation may have to teach us: That we are arguably too dependent on disposable things (we have already seen this in the increased consciousness of the problems caused by single-use plastics around the world). That we need to stop running around and start counting our blessings in the privacy of our homes. And that we need to put in some serious thought about why the government and media have such power to control our psychology. Whether the system can be changed, and how. For everyone, not just me and mine.
Instead of descending into mindlessness and thoughtlessness, I prefer to concentrate on being mindful and thoughtful. At least so far. How about you?