A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Tulsa seemed to be very much on edge.

As Sen. James Lankford observed in one of our virtual town halls, about a third of the state has been working harder than ever in essential jobs, and they’re anxious; about a third of the state has been working hard from home, and they’re anxious; and about a third of the state is unemployed, and they’re anxious.

That’s a lot of anxiety out there, flying in a lot of different directions.

Will I get infected at work? Will I have a job to go back to? Will my car be repossessed?

These are more existential challenges than most of us are accustomed to. One day, you’re worried about whether it’s safe to put out tomato plants yet, and the next you’re watching for the mail every day, hoping it’ll finally bring your government relief check.

Those tensions are aggravated by the emotional toll of isolation. We’ve been locked in the house by ourselves or with the same group of family members for a month. We’re tired of the same four walls, the constant stream of bad news and the monotony of Netflix.

There’s also the special added tension created by unknown unknowns. Have you seen the stories out of the East Coast about young and middle-aged people who appear to have recovered from COVID-19, but then have massive stroke? What we don’t know about the long-term effects of coronavirus is a lot, but one of the things that we do know is that we know too little, which helps our tension not at all.

At the moment, two big tensions are pulling society in opposite directions: How do we stay well, and how do we get the economy moving in the right direction?

That’s a balancing act that would test Solomon. Get it wrong one way, and people die. Get it wrong the other way, and people die.

Judging from the emails, voicemails and Facebook posts I’m getting, there are a lot of people out there who know exactly how to split that baby, the problem being their solutions contradict each other. Any politician who thinks this is the moment to satisfy all of the people part of the time is wrong.

I don’t know the answer to this one. I’m in the third who are working from home anxiously, and that’s where I plan to stay for a while. I’ve been watching two squirrels play chase in the backyard for more than a month, and, while I’d rather be watching baseball, I’m interested enough to see their game to its end.

Not everyone has that luxury, and I don’t know how I’d feel if my circumstances were different, except that I’d feel even more frustrated.

At some point, it will certainly be time to flip the narrative, as a friend put it recently. Instead of everyone staying home to protect the vulnerable, we’re going to have to tell the vulnerable to stay home, while the rest of us go to work.

Whether that time is now, I don’t know, but we’re about to find out.

• • •

I’ve been reading a lot of Bernard Cornwell novels since I went into shelter.

It’s not deathless prose. Cornwell writes about heroes and wars. His protagonists tend to come up from the ranks, have little compunction about killing (especially aristocrats, officers and deserters) and have an incredibly detailed knowledge of how every piece of armament works. If you don’t want to know how a howitzer finds its range or the comparative values of rifles and muskets in close combat, you might want to flip a few pages.

When the fighting begins, there’s plenty of fog of war — smoke, minié balls and lots of gore. But you can usually count on Admiral Nelson or Stonewall Jackson to wander through the scene when the cannons go quiet to conveniently put it all into context.

And then the hero marches down the road.

As fiction goes, it helps pass the time, but it isn’t without its value.

Cornwell’s heroes usually aren’t fearless.

In fact, amid much more clearly cut existential threats, they are often filled with bowel-weakening, throat-closing terror, but they soldier forward anyway.

They aren’t motivated by exalted ideas of honor. In fact, they sometimes scoff at that idea. They keep moving forward because they’re soldiers. And that’s what good soldiers do.


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Editorial Pages Editor

Wayne is the editorial pages editor of the Tulsa World and a political columnist. A fourth-generation Oklahoman, he previously served as the World’s city editor for 13 years and as a reporter at the state Capitol of four years. Phone: 918-581-8308