When even a walk outside can feel like stepping amid ashes

Upon reading that the United States would no longer be paying into the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, I was forced to consider what it really means to suggest that the world is on fire. 

No one should have been surprised at the move, save the gall it took to pull that particular trigger in the face of a pandemic. Donald Trump’s administration has always been the boss that tells you what changes the company is making as if they are asking your opinion, testing the temperature of a move before making it clear that was the plan all along. Of course, Trump Inc. is nowhere near as polished as your boss. He is a punch-drunk fighter who telegraphs his punches, the turn of the shoulder indicating a wide hook is well on its way. 

With every passing day of his presidency, I have had occasion to say, “The world is on fire,” and anyone who was within earshot knows exactly what I mean. Except it’s not a universal burning. The stock market being on fire means little to the poor man. Voting rights being on fire hold little threat to those who have been suppressed out of access to polls. And so on. The world is a big place. It can hold many flames at once. 

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The world is grounded and all of the streets are empty, so even a walk is like wandering through the smoking remains of a wildfire, autopsying all of the parking lots which should be full. Peering into the windows of closed restaurants that couldn’t manage to keep staff working for even carry-out orders, counting the tree rings of dust in the corners of their windows. Hunger motes still managing to catch a sun ray, as if pushed through the air by some unseen customer.

You have never been more aware of the birds, helped in no small part by the migration pattern of unfurling spring. You want to feed them all. A part of you remembers that we eat the heels of our loaves now, and birdsong laughs at your pandemic math. There is food everywhere for birds, and the air has never been cleaner. Nature thrives in the kiln of human suffering, the pollution’s culprits locked away, trying to remember if bread explodes birds.

Finally the world truly feels on fire. Checking each other’s foreheads for heat, the blood of the infected boiling with fear and a recognition that even if they survive this, they may be forever changed. Anxiety ignites in the chest of the healthy, either boiling the appetite away or burning in the gut, begging for extinguishing through any handy pleasure.

Watching the faces of protesters pressed against the glass at the Ohio Statehouse, the world seems truly on fire now, flames licking at the door. It is a phrase that has found purchase in our minds and is earning its keep. Every day it seems we live in a world that believes more and more that a controlled burn of the herd is better than a glass of water. History will weed out their nonsense, but in the happening of it all you can only see the smoke. From the top of our nation to the misspelled signs and bullhorns of the fearful zombies-to-be, all I can smell are singed brain cells.