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Pam Beesley, the Punch, and COVID-19

One of my favorite comedic sketches (and there are many) from the incredibly popular sitcom, ‘The Office,’ is when Pam earned the right to slug Michael, the branch manager. Pam, a gentle, soft-spoken front desk receptionist, was angered when Michael dated, and then dumped her mother. Insult was added to injury when he did so on her birthday. As punishment, Michael agreed to stand still and allow Pam to deliver a punch while he stood unprotected like a real man. Pam smartly scheduled the ‘punch’ outside and after work so the entire office could gather around. It also allowed Michael a few hours to think about it. Very cruel of Pam.

What made that scene work so well is that nearly all of us have contemplated taking a punch knowing it was likely to hurt. How bad? Who knows. Just thinking about it tenses me.

You may have played childhood games where you stand perfectly still while a playmate hits you in the stomach on a dare. And if it is as hard as someone can hit you, good chance it’s going to hurt. There is something about the foreknowledge of something painful that makes it so difficult to accept. It messes with our fears, and we soon grow to dread the coming event. Why else do we loath a dental appointment or a medical appointment where they’re going to put needles in you. It’s hard to think of anything else. Sometimes, in our fear, we attempt to justify a delay. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel better.

Pam played her role very well; she looked vicious, and she wasn’t going to hold back. You could nearly smell the righteous indignation she was about to unload on poor ole Michael. If Michael appeared scared, he had every right to be.

When you know you’re about to get slugged hard enough to hurt you, you try to put that off as long as possible. Michael had hours to dread just this moment. So when the time came for him to get the big punch, he stammered and negotiated and trembled with fear for as long as Pam’s patience allowed. It was pure ratings gold to see a manly Michael reduced to whimpering like a scolded puppy. The world yelled at the TV! “Hit him, Pam. Hit him!” Then, he made the biggest mistake anyone can make to avoiding getting punched. He apologized- with a ‘but.’ Pam was about to forgo the hit, accept his apology, and walk away, but when Michael attempted to couch his apology with a ‘but,’ she twirled around three-sixty and slapped him across the face with a solid, loud slap. More shocked than hurt, he limped back into the office playing the victim.

Good comedy often reveals the sensitive underbelly of our human emotions. The fear that comes from knowing something might hurt is so universal that with few exceptions, we can all relate. We tense tight our stomach in anticipation of getting slugged. Today, we scarcely dare take big breaths for fear of catching a virus such as COVID-19.

It is a good thing that we seldom know in advance when we catch a cold or get the flu, or someone is going to run a red light. We do some things to reduce our chances by getting a flu shot, but they are no better than between 40% and 60% effective depending on the flavor of the flu that season. If we know someone has a cold, we might avoid getting too near. Colds and viruses and auto accidents are miserable things to endure, but they are features of our human existence.

COVID-19 possesses our entire collective focus due in no small part to our fear of getting the virus. Entirely understandable. It is not fun to contemplate the effects of a fever, headaches, and a host of other symptoms or worse. Yet, many who have been infected report no or few symptoms, and nearly everyone will fully recover.

Every day we’re being told that many more have been infected than initially thought. The actual mortality rate is still not known, but it is going down. It is still possible that COVID-19 may approach the mortality rate of a harsh flu season — the type of flu season we generally don’t pay much attention too. The kind we don’t get all flinched up over expecting a punch to hit us anytime.

In perhaps a year or two, a vaccine may appear. But no one can guarantee that as not all viruses lend themselves to quick fixes and vaccines. There may never be an effective vaccine for COVID-19. If so, then we have but two choices; we must learn to live with it, hoping that herd immunity thunders to our rescue quickly, causing the virus to dissipate into our rearview. Or we must stay ‘hunkered’ down indefinitely while the technocrats with swabs and intrusive apps attempt to micro trace every movement of the invisible little bastard. That approach is proving to have some very nasty side effects. Some with symptoms of other diseases are delaying treatment, while hospitals reduce staff and stand mostly empty. The economic damage is unknowable. It has already caused millions to lose their jobs. Many with small businesses will likely never reopen. Food banks are busy handing out food to those dangerously close to being hungry. Running out of money can really hurt. I know.

There are many things to fear in life. Yet, despite all the possible worse case scenarios, we choose to pursue our work, our dreams, our aspirations by not fixating on what might destroy us but rather focusing on a better future. History is full of stories of pain endured and fear subdued. To succumb to fear is to give up, to become its victim, and that my fellow travelers is no way to live.

Exercise often, eat healthy, and be safe.

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