Monthly Archives: May 2020

While Making Other Plans

In his song, Beautiful Boy, John Lennon uses the lyric, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.[i] How true that is! In life (and in movies) often the best, well-thought-out plans do not go as we intend. That is what keeps films interesting—and life challenging.

We learn from movies that sometimes the guy doesn’t get the girl, or the girl doesn’t get the guy. In this scene from La La Land,[ii] Mia (played by Emma Stone) daydreams about what might have been, but she and Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) end up taking different paths:

Our war heroes often return home with PTSD. One of America’s greatest war heroes, Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), has difficulty adjusting to family life in this scene from American Sniper[iii]:

And sadly, sometimes, loved ones die. This scene from Titanic[iv] gets me every time:

If you were like me, the new year came with a bright future ahead. We had planned a European river cruise with good friends. Our retirement funds remained steady and adequate. All family members were employed, healthy, and happy. But then, everything changed. The coronavirus proved once again that John Lennon was right. Life gets in the way of our best-laid plans.

And almost everything we, as a country, tried (although often too little, too late), did not go as planned as we fought what President Trump has called it—the invisible enemy. A few things went better than expected. The City of Dallas has seen a 19 percent drop in crime. City streets and freeways are free from traffic congestion, even during rush hour. Our air is cleaner. In the northeastern U.S., smog is down 30 percent from a year ago. In Rome, it’s down almost 50 percent. According to the Health Effects Institute, air pollution kills as many as 7 million people worldwide annually. And urban sightings of coyotes, pumas, and even kangaroos, are now commonplace. My local gas station is selling regular unleaded gas for $1.39 a gallon. But I bought it in Gainesville, Texas, last week for $1.09 a gallon. Compare that to last month, where the average price of gas in the Dallas area was $1.82. And to show support to those of us with little or no hair, “buzz cuts” for men are up over 58 percent.

But most of the news surrounding COVID-19 has not gone according to plan and not in a good way. President Trump thought he had ended the threat of COVID-19 when, on February 1, 2020, he banned entry into the U.S. of all foreign nationals traveling from China. We now believe the virus came to the U.S. primarily from European travelers to the U.S. 

In our efforts to stop (or at least slow) the spread of the virus, state and local governments have issued stay-at-home orders and have imposed social distancing requirements. But that has led to more than 1.5 million Texans filing for unemployment benefits since March 15. That means more than 10 percent of Texas workers are currently out of work. In the restaurant industry alone, 688,000 workers have lost their jobs. The state has paid more than $1.4 billion in unemployment benefits so far. Ironically, at the same time, there are 481,000 job openings in Texas at companies such as Amazon, Lockheed, and Baylor Scott & White (hospitals). 

Due to the large number of people out of work, North Texas food banks have handed out more than 6 million pounds of food. The Texas National Guard has dispatched 250 soldiers to work with the food banks. Half of those seeking assistance from the food banks have never needed such help before. And one of the results of unemployment that few people are talking about is how many people who lost their jobs also lost their health insurance. I fear that one of the unintended consequences of our responses to the pandemic will be the increased economic inequality in America. Will the gap between rich and poor become even wider?

To help those hit economically by the stay-at-home orders, Congress passed an initial $2.2 trillion stimulus package. The law included payments of $1,200 to most individuals. But based on the median income of families in the U.S., that amounts to only one week of lost wages. The package designated most of the money to specific industries hardest hit by the pandemic (such as the airline industry, where travel has decreased by 95 percent) and small businesses. But we have all heard the stories of large companies getting most of the money, many with little need for it. Harvard University, for example, received $9 million in stimulus money even though it has a private endowment fund totaling over $40 billion (that’s billion with a “b”).  Under pressure, Harvard agreed to return the money, as have many other companies that didn’t need it. The Small Business Administration said Monday that companies had returned $2 billion in stimulus funds. That’s the good news. The bad news is nearly 80 percent of small businesses that applied for loans under the stimulus package were still waiting to hear on their applications when funds ran out. Fortunately, Congress recently authorized a second $500 package for small businesses. Oh, but if you are a small business owner with a felony record during the last five years, or on probation or parole, don’t bother to apply. You are ineligible. Many former felons have become entrepreneurs because few employers would hire workers with criminal records. But despite having “paid their debt to society,” the federal government just gave them another slap in the face.   

With this second relief package, then, federal aid will surpass more than $2.5 trillion so far. But when asked how the country would pay for it, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responded, “We’ll deal with [the debt] later.” Two trillion dollars equates to about $15,000 per household and exceeds all the federal government’s revenues last year. Interest on the federal debt is growing faster than any other major category of federal spending. Can America ever dig its way out of this financial hole?

But the unintended, negative consequences of our responses to COVID-19 are not just economic. Although crime is down overall, family violence and abuse are up, as are cases of depression and other forms of mental illness. Noise complaints have more than doubled. In the first week alone of the shelter-in-place order, Dallas received 606 noise complaints. And household trash is up 14 percent (the City of Dallas collected 22,374 tons of trash in March).

Even more serious, I worry about our healthcare workers who battle COVID-19 every day. Despite their valiant efforts, 80 percent of people on ventilators with COVID-19 have died. Typically, it is about half that amount. Will such loss of life affect these healthcare warriors with widespread cases of PTSD? And people are dying alone, without family and loved ones around. And you don’t have to die of COVID-19 to be affected. Just this week, my sister-in-law suddenly died from a medical condition unrelated to the coronavirus. My first instinct was to hop on a plane to be with my brother. But he then reminded me that, under current restrictions, there could be no funeral—only a small graveyard service with no more than a handful of people attending. There won’t even be enough spots for all his children and grandchildren. So we are being forced to learn new ways of grieving.

It may be years before the world gets back to those carefree days before the pandemic. I wonder if life will ever be the same. But were those days before COVID-19 all that carefree? Regardless of circumstances, life has a way of throwing things at us when we least expect it. In the film, Cast Away,[v] Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks) is a Federal Express executive whose plane crashes, leaving him stranded alone on a deserted island. His plight tests him physically, mentally, and emotionally. But thinking of his fiancée and their happy life ahead help him to survive. He is finally rescued but returns home to find that his fiancée, assuming Noland had died, moved on and married another. Here is Noland’s reaction to his latest unplanned event: 

My son recently reminded me of these words from the musical, Les Miserable: “Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” And so our night of COVID-19 will end; there are brighter days ahead. And as we always do, even though life consistently throws unintended consequences at us, we will find a way to survive and hopefully thrive. Or, as my father-in-law would say, “We can weather whatever together.”

[i] The original quote is attributed to Allen Saunders. It appeared in the “Quotable Quotes” section of the January 1957 issue of Reader’s Digest. The original quote is: “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

[ii] La La Land:

  • Production Companies: Summit Entertainment, Black Label Media, and TK Films
  • Director:  Damien Chazelle
  • Screenwriter: Damien Chazelle
  • Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Rosemarie DeWitt
  • Release date: December 25, 2016

[iii] American Sniper:

  • Production Companies: Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures, and RatPac-Dune Entertainment
  • Director:  Clint Eastwood
  • Screenwriter: Jason Hall (based on the book by Chris Kyle)
  • Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, and Kyle Gallner
  • Release date: January 16, 2015

[iv] Titanic:

  • Production Companies: Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and Lightstorm Entertainment
  • Director:  James Cameron
  • Screenwriter: James Cameron
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Billy Zane
  • Release date: December 19, 1997

[v] Cast Away:

  • Production Companies: Twentieth Century Foc, DreamWorks, and ImageMovers
  • Director:  Robert Zemeckis
  • Screenwriter: William Broyles Jr.
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, and Paul Sanchez
  • Release date: Decembeer 22, 2000