Belinda and the Pandemic #24
Belinda could not have told you why, watching Queen Elizabeth’s speech to her nation about the pandemic, she should have wept large, salty tears, coming close to a child-like sob. Playing the video again, Belinda found herself once more overtaken by spontaneous, involuntary weeping.
Was it Elizabeth’s motherliness, wondered Belinda? It is true that when her mother Trudi was still alive, Belinda used, mentally, to compare her to Elizabeth sometimes: they had the same ivory skin, carefully applied lipstick, and the dignified (if dumpy) look of bourgeois respectability. If Trudi once reminded Belinda of the queen, why should the reverse not be true?
But, no, that was not it. The aging queen, attractively well preserved in her plain green dress, was just not that motherly. She was commanding rather than soft. And, unlike Trudi, whose speech was impeded by strokes, Elizabeth enunciated every word perfectly with a voice that remained clear and well bred, but not snobbish.
Perhaps, thought Belinda, she had just watched too many episodes of The Crown and had confused the largely fictional character with the real person so that she imagined an intimacy with the queen which, of course, did not exist. Indeed, Belinda understood that she was not at all the target audience for the queen’s speech, addressed as it was to Britons to give them courage and resolve.
Some smart speech writer had captured just what the queen should say, and wanted to say, and then did say perfectly: that “tackling this disease” was a joint effort, that her people could take pride in their effort, that “self-isolating” was “hard” but provided a pause for meditation. The queen invoked a heroic past of self-sacrifice and asked her subjects to live up to it now. Was this myth-making, wondered Belinda? Yes, she thought, and wept again to think that there was no such inspirational myth-maker at home to deliver a speech aimed at her.
Belinda and the Pandemic #44
Boris Johnson had a change of heart. After downplaying the threat posed by the pandemic and, even, shaking dozens, maybe hundreds of hands, Boris got the disease himself, tried to power through it, but found himself in hospital, getting oxygen in the ICU. Now looking fit again, Boris had become a convert to all the sensible behaviors the queen had told her people to adopt weeks ago. His perception of reality had shifted: the disease was real and dangerous (he could have died), no one was immune, and it was part of his job to keep the people of the UK safe. Somehow, not all of these truths had been entirely clear to him before.
Belinda thought about the tour she had taken of the Paramount studios in Hollywood a few years back. She had been especially fascinated by what looked like an ordinary parking lot, with a large board the size of a movie screen at the end of it. The lot had low walls around it, so that when all the cars were taken out, it could be filled up with water or sand or any other substance required by the movie being made. An artist would paint a backdrop on the board: a perfect sunset, maybe, or ocean waves lapping the sand in the parking lot. The viewer of the movie thought she was looking at a beach; she could not get beyond what the camera wanted to show her. The movie depended, after all, upon concealing the ambient reality.
Maybe Boris’s internal camera did not, at first, want to show him that his usual devil-may-care performance would not suffice in the case of the pandemic, that he did not enjoy protection against it just because he imagined that he did. His fall into illness forced him to reconsider. He had to step out of his own personal movie—or, perhaps, admit that his movie formed part of a larger picture. Fortunately, he could see that picture, and he could get better.
Belinda and the Pandemic #49
Two days ago, a check addressed to Belinda’s dead father had come in the mail. It was a government check for $1200, part of the stimulus package that was meant to boost the Covid-sick economy. Belinda wondered how many other dead people had gotten checks, feeling slightly unclean to have received Leonard’s allotment, even though she would never cash it or try to.
Today, an NPR story explained that in the rush to send out the checks, no one had consulted the Social Security Administration to see how many prospective recipients had already died. People who had departed this life two years before had money deposited in their checking accounts in the cases where those still existed. The Secretary of the Treasury advised the off-spring of the dead to send the money back without outlining any procedure by which this might be done.
The whole episode contributed to the unreal quality of what now passed for everyday life. Having read the graphic novel version of Keynesian economics, Belinda believed in big government programs to offset recessions. Besides, on the micro level, many people needed those checks, and she would have sent Leonard’s check to the local food pantry if she could have done so without committing fraud. But she hated to see a program so badly run that its waste and inefficiency could be used as an argument against the next necessary but expensive measure that came along. Belinda, after all, had been a government employee herself, albeit at the state level, and she felt that the people of her state had, mostly, received good value from her college professor labors. Thus, it dismayed her to see big government tarnished yet again by incompetence—for she wanted it to be bigger still.
Linda Seidel, a retired English teacher, uses an alter ego named Belinda through which to express her views. Her fictionalized memoir The Belinda Chronicles is forthcoming from Golden Antelope Press.