I Need to Read More

I’ve been reading a lot lately. None of it has done me any good. I used to be a verbivore who devoured any and all forms of the written word. Don’t look up verbivore, it’s a “me word only” word. I make up words that should be words and use them as if they really are words. I get to do that because I read a lot. I wish there was actual edification, wisdom, and knowledge in my reading material.

I haven’t been reading books. My reading has been confined to documents and briefs and papers and web updates of documents and briefs and papers. Since March I could be certified (and certifiable) with a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in COVID-19. Don’t “Yay Tom” yet. Any kind of advanced degree or even any study of COVID-19 is useless. I am not a doctor. (You can “Yay Tom” on that one, the world is definitely a better place without me practicing medicine.)

So reading tons of information on COVID is useful for about five or ten minutes. And, everything that I read from March 11 through about 20 minutes ago is no longer useful as the information is now obsolete, half-true or been partially discredited. There is very little that has consensus, and most everything has a sliding scale of agreement.

What we heard in the first five minutes of the pandemic is the most agreed upon piece of information that has been put forth in all this. Wash your hands. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, and wash all the way up to your wrists. If you touch anything, wash your hands again.

I know – masks. Masks are recommended in nearly everything that I read. It will be very interesting for me to read the history of this pandemic in the future. If masks have the efficacy that everyone says that they do, why aren’t the case numbers decreasing accordingly? Questions like that are anathema to certain people. I believe that this pandemic is running its course. People jump up and down and point at the increasing number of cases, in some places, and what I think what we are seeing is “herd immunity.”

But what fogs up any intelligent, mature, and probing discussion of things like this, as in so many other issues, is “herd mentality.” The lines are pretty clearly drawn about how this pandemic should be handled, and never the twain shall meet. Mr. Kipling knew of what he was speaking… even though he said it, or wrote it, more than 130 years ago.

I have more arrows in my quiver about that, but let’s get back to reading. The blisters on my eyeballs will heal, and the gray matter betwixt my ears might even regenerate (my hopes are not real high on that second one…) but what will never come back to me is the time. I am learning things for others, and it’s an important topic. Every document, every discussion, every single everything always includes the handwashing (notice I did too, like a good boy, above) encouragement, the mask recommendation, the six feet (or should it be three feet, or maybe eight feet) of “social distancing,” and on and on and on. It is getting harder and harder to know how much to skip at the beginning of every piece, to get by all that… Reading it for the 8,000th time does not affect its veracity.

You would be extremely wealthy right now if you’d have garnered a nickel for every time that you heard the sound of sanitizer being shot into someone’s hands.

We had a contact tracer call us here the other day. Someone had attended an event in our church (we called it a funeral) and the contact tracer was asking probative questions about our event. The funeral was huge, but we did all that we could to keep people safe. We encouraged masks, most of us wore them almost all the time, we had every other pew closed off, and we asked people to space themselves and do all the things that we all know that we have to do now. We could’ve laid down a three-inch film of hand sanitizer throughout our whole building, we had so much of it around. You would be extremely wealthy right now if you’d have garnered a nickel for every time that you heard the sound of sanitizer being shot into someone’s hands. God bless that contact tracer, she asked if we cleaned our building, if we encouraged social distancing, yadda yadda yadda… and she was answered politely. I get it, she is reading from a script, she has to ask those questions. Everyone knows the drill on that. There is little in the way of anything useful being done to combat the pandemic, everyone mumbles the same advice, repeatedly, as if we are all monks at prayer time in the monastery.

We do get to pump the economy with big dollars on hand soap and sanitizer, paper toweling, we even bought a misting machine that can fog up a room with COVID-killing chemicals in about five minutes. We have the marks on the floor, masks everywhere. We even bought single-serving communion cups, kind of little hourglass-shaped things, with a tiny piece of bread in one part of the hourglass, wine in the other side, both foil sealed for our safety. Don’t even ask on the “per unit” cost of those, and of course, all that single serving waste that heads right to the landfill. COVID has really killed off environmental concerns – everything is single-use now.

Everyone knows that we are in a pandemic. Everyone knows what is being recommended, everyone knows that there are no guarantees. The best way to protect yourself is don’t go anywhere or do anything that violates your level of comfort. I didn’t read that. That one is from me. You’re welcome.

So much of the protocol for battling this pandemic is repeating all these encouragements, all of these recommendations, all of the CDC (Center for Disease Control – but I bet you know that by now…) instructions, guidance by the WHO (I so want to make a reference about not being fooled again, by “The Who,” but the World Health Organization might frown upon that…). We have all of those suggestions posted everywhere, and we expect everyone to read them, but everyone has already read them, probably elsewhere, but we need to post them and repeat them and act like we acknowledge them because we have a legal obligation to do so.

Our world has devolved into this. Read this. Make sure you understand this. Everyone has a certain level of obligation and responsibility in all of this, because every place, organization, and group is supposedly “concerned about your safety.” The concern is for the legal wiggle room to claim that everything was done as it should be, and no one can guarantee a hermetically sealed atmosphere that will 100% protect them from the evils of COVID-19.

For every event that did not take place this year, I am willing to wager that approximately 90% of them were canceled out of fear of litigation as much as for concern about anyone’s safety. Every time we click on an acknowledgment of having read 3,000 words of legalese on a new app for our phone, we are giving that company permission to do a gazillion things with our data, to snoop into our gaming and browsing habits, and deciphering our shoe sizes. But we do it, because we ain’t reading all that.

For all of my COVID fatigue. I know that the stakes are very high. I know that lots of people have died. Someday we might actually know the real numbers who actually died from COVID-19, but I doubt it. There is no incentive to report on these things accurately.

Does it sound like we are about six months into a never-ending nightmare? I think I read somewhere that it can’t go on like this forever.


Tom Dietzler
Tom Dietzler
Lifelong, proud somewhat strident Wisconsinite, I love my state and love to sing its praises. A bon vivant and raconteur, lover of history, literature and good conversations. Laughter and music are salves that I frequently am applying to my soul. I have spent time (too much) in manufacturing and printing and have found great joy in my current position as director of operations at a large church in the same area where I grew up. Husband to Rhonda and father of two adult children Melanie and Zack, I’m the constant companion of my five-year-old Lab, Oliver, who is my muse to a lot of my stories. I’m a fan of deep conversation and my interests are in learning and gaining wisdom, so in the last few years I have become and less politically vocal, and hopefully more respectful and open-minded. Rhonda and I sold our home in 2018, bought a condo and have traveled a bit more, golfed a bit more and are enjoying life a bit more. If you take the time to get to know me, prepare yourself for an invite to the 30th state to join the union, a gem located in the upper Midwest, full of beautiful scenery formed by the glaciers, with lots of lakes and trees and gorgeous scenery, and the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet.

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  1. Oh Tom, you know how much I love and adore you and your verbosity. I “Yay Tom” every time I discover you’ve written something. On this topic, I’m very much in alignment with dear Jeff Ikler. I’m all about the science and the science hasn’t changed so it’s reinforced my already-socially-isolating-ways. Which I’m actually good with. But, see, I’m an introvert, and I recognize that my normal is not everyone else’s normal. I have no internal pull to go out and be in large groups. I find my God in nature, usually alone or always 10 feet from others, not in a building, so for me it’s different, and I respect that it’s not that way for others. But what I can’t get my head around is if, there might be any small inkling of truth to the fact that masks can save others’ lives, why is it something we would even toy with? I don’t think we have hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens who would willingly want to be responsible for the death of another person, but such actions could, according to science, have that result. It makes my heart hurt. I understand that individual freedom means that we get to decide what is right for our individual selves, but just as we have stop signs in our cities so we don’t crash into another person and kill them even if we have the desire to zoom straight ahead, don’t we have a responsibility to one another if we choose to live in a society?

  2. I had locked myself out of my account for a few days… I am way tardy on thanking Dennis for this platform, for letting us air out our brains and say things that may not be exactly what needs to be said, but is just sitting on the tarmac and needs to take off so other planes can get out and on their way. I don’t know that I threaded a needle with this one… I don’t know that there was a needle that needed threading. It was just stuff in my head. And this community is always open and supportive of thinking and trying to discuss things that aren’t always concrete. “Nuance with Me” is clearly something I invite you to do… thank you again, Dennis.

  3. Thanks, Tom.
    My wife works in a clinic and she also has a compromised immune system. One of the PA’s in her office consistently removed her mask because ‘it’s uncomfortable.’ The PA now has contracted COVID and my wife had to fight with the corporation who owns the clinic for testing for the staff. No one else has tested positive (including my wife), and I confess to being just a bit fed up with the PA’s childishness and the corporation’s heartlessness. We’re all in this lifeboat together, so pick up your damn oar, right?
    Be good. And well.

    • There are so many aggravating, outrageous and imbecilic things about this pandemic, and then I have to stop and think – people have gotten sick and died, people’s lives have changed forever, people’s businesses and livelihoods were impacted to the point of being squashed out of existence… so my inconvenience and frustration are small prices to pay. My point is that there is no clear consensus on anything, except washing your hands continuously and staying away from other people. The rest is conjecture, shaded in with political considerations, and frankly, a lot of opinion. Other places in the world that were held up as models of dealing with this, are now having to deal with outbreaks again. We see the numbers rising in this country, but not the hospitalizations and deaths. The main thing that I hate is that there is almost no where to turn for true insight and wisdom on this topic. Thank you, Mac, for your perspective on my little tantrum. I keep telling myself “This too shall pass” – and I’m just trying to get myself to the point that I actually believe that. Take care, and be well, as well.

  4. Tom, you always make me think. I don’t know who is “right” or “wrong” about such matters, but I tend to want to follow the scientists. It’s easier for me to respect evidence, data, and the history of such things than it is, frankly, to rely on projections of this all being a “hoax.”

    From the historical perspective, Dennis shared an article by an historian sometime back who was writing about the pandemic of 1919 in Denver specifically. The parallels were uncanny, eerie. The disbelief that masks did any good – until they did. The protestations about the loss of freedom. The projected second wave – that happened.

    The other perspective I have is time. If you take the long view, we’ve been impacted so far for half a year. For some that has already meant a tragic loss of loved ones, income, property and so on. To avoid further suffering, I tell myself not to argue the scientific advice because frankly, I don’t know better. (We followed the science here in NYC, and things got significantly better in a short period of time.) Let’s do what we have to do to wrestle this thing to the ground. If that means losing a BIT of personal freedom for a moment in time – a moment in time! – for the benefit of all, well, that seems to be a small price to pay.

    The flip side of “herd mentality” might be cognitive dissonance. Sure doesn’t work for smokers, does it?

    • Hey Jeff, I want to thank you for always making me think. I tend to write from a place of emotion and in response to things. You tend to be more thoughtful, and from that place of taking the long view. I appreciate that you took some time to engage with me over this tantrum, as I always do. Our friendship endures because of mutual respect and that we have so much in common and are willing to hear each other out. I value science as well. In my reading, it’s been most apparent to me that there is no consensus on this virus – another notch in its belt in its ability to vex us and divide us and cripple our economy and take away so many people’s lives and livelihoods. I hear what you are saying about what took place in NYC, but also there are some questions about the early strategies in dealing with those afflicted that caused your area’s death toll to skyrocket. No one has dealt with this perfectly, and everyone was learning on the fly, and the virus did not afford us that luxury of time and thoughtful counter measures. You and I both will find lots to peruse as the history of this year is written, about what was done, could have been done and what could and could not have been controlled. I always, always enjoy your input and perspective.

    • Tom, you’re right about the initial NYC / Cuomo response. In the early, early days of this, people may have been still questioning “Is it real?” and in the NY area “Who is in charge?” His was by no means a perfect response, but when he kicked in the daily briefings – and listened to voices more knowledgable than his own – we started to see improvements. There are times when I don’t like living in NYC – it’s way too crowded and noisy for my mid-Western roots – but this wasn’t one of those times.

      Very related, one of today’s BC360′ featured articles is entitle “Can we confidently say ‘I am not sure?'” Ironically, I have been trying to wear that idea lately. It’s so easy to be dogmatic, to think one knows for sure. It’s part of what pushes us into camps, I think. Backing off “Knowing for sure!” is perhaps “Is it reasonable?” “Is there strong evidence that would support ‘it’?”—whatever “it” is. It’s also less exhausting frankly. It’s so easy to get tied up in the “I’m right!” knots.

      Ultimately, I am a compliant individual, and my DiSC assessment proves it! Ha! If a scientist says to me that we have reason to believe that wearing masks will help me and – of critical importance – my fellow human beings, well, given that I don’t have phd after my name, I’ll be inclined to listen. But that is just me!

      Take care of yourself, my friend.

  5. Very thought-provoking piece, Tom. I’m with you on the COVID fatigue. I’m tired of worrying and the uncertainty of it all. This can’t last forever and yet there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. I also share your frustration in knowing who or what to believe while so much seems to be at stake. Personally, I’m just trying to be “socially responsible,” and for me, that means taking measured risks with caution. The alternative would be to lock myself in my home for the rest of the year and I’m not willing to do that.

    That said, I do think that social responsibility often comes with compromise. I hate wearing a mask. I’m not an expert on mask efficacy or droplets vs airborne or the immune system. But IF there is even a small chance that the mask is the best way to get this thing under control, I think it’s worth the temporary discomfort. What’s harder for me to accept are the people who know no more than me about mask efficacy, droplets v airborne or the immune system who have proclaimed their right to refuse to any/all guidelines or who have determined this is all an elaborate hoax. What I do know is that we’re going to have to come together to get through this thing. And that is not something I see happening today.

    • Hey Melissa, I do try to be thoughtful, and I try to be even handed, and I do try to be open minded. My frustration lies in that this pandemic is another mirror of the time in which we live. That something to pervasive as a pandemic would manifest itself as just another Rorschach blot about where we are politically. Not only is there no consensus, some of the consensuses are at loggerheads with each other. Granted, that sentence doesn’t make sense on a lot of levels, but it is also true at a basic level – how you feel about dealing with the virus, about living your life right now, about how and why to do what we do, is in many cases a reflection of where you are politically. For me, in my position, with trying to deal with opening a school and allowing people to come into our buildings, that isn’t good enough. I would dearly love to follow some science on this… but my Masters, Ph. D in COVID and all my reading and trying to understand this has not given me any confidence at all of a single strategy to do what needs to be done. Thankfully, a vast majority of our families see that we moving ahead with a good faith effort to keep everyone safe and to try to function as normally as possible, with that good faith effort in many areas. I vented, and you good people received it wonderfully, and I am thankful for your perspective and support, as always.

  6. Tom you give us much to think about. I am only about two steps from being off the grid . We only go into town once a week, that being said when I was a kid growing up on a farm we only went to town once a week. We are home schooling our grandchildren and I can see that this is often a nightmare to the parents that have no help. I like your last line…..I think I read somewhere that it can’t go on like this forever.

    • Larry, you are so generous and supportive of so many of us here. As to my last line, it was me holding out hope, or wishing that it would be that way… there is not very much in our current situation for us to be absolutely sure about. It was helpful for me to talk about, and to air my thoughts and feelings to this great community of thoughtful people, and I always enjoy hearing from you. This too shall pass, right? Right?