Essentially Non-Essential: Maintaining Humanity In A Crisis


I first started thinking about this post last week while watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. On the show, Oliver played a clip of an Amazon warehouse worker complaining about having to come into work (especially in unsafe conditions, thanks Jeff Bezos) to ship “non-essential” items. Putting aside the separate issue of generally shit working conditions of Amazon warehouses, the employee was especially worked up about having to send out sex toys.

Oliver, though, retorted that if a dildo will keep a person at home and safe, it’s actually doing a larger public service.

It’s a good point, and a good jumping off point when thinking about our wants and needs in the midst of this crisis, how to best meet those desires, and what, exactly, is “essential?”

For those of you who don’t know, I keep a part-time writing gig at the football blog The Liverpool Offside. It’s not too bad. It gives me a platform to express myself to a large audience. I get a little beer money. It’s not a career, but I enjoy it.

Of course, the last couple of weeks have posed the existential question to our blog, “How do you write about football when there is no football?” Moreover, there now seems to be a need to preface every article with some variation of, “While football isn’t the most important thing right now…”

In a way, this is true. Football doesn’t have the potential to shut down economies, paralyze us with fear, isolate us, and kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people.

And yet, we’re now finding that the trivial things in life–whether they’re football (or other sports), music, festivals, going to the theater, going to restaurants–are the things that we miss the most. These trivial things are, in fact, the things that make life worth living. It is these trivial things that are at the very core of our humanity, and that make this whole civilization business worthwhile.

As this corona crisis drags on, we’re learning a great deal about ourselves individually and collectively.

Who wouldn’t give anything for a nice meal at their favorite restaurant? Or a sunny spring afternoon at the ball game? Or going to the local cinema, grabbing an impossibly large and overpriced popcorn, and watching the latest Marvel movie? Or having friends over for drinks? Or seeing your favorite band in concert? Or, yes, even ordering a new sex toy, to use alone or with your “quaran-tine” partner? Or…any number of things that bring small bits of joy and meaning into our lives.

All of these things are “non-essential” now. And they’re all the things we miss. Right now we need to survive. But we don’t want to just survive. We want to live.

If anything, these “trivial” things in our lives are more meaningful now. Instead of dividing and isolating us, these hobbies bring us together. When Liverpool score a goal, I’m one of millions around the world celebrating. When I see a great movie, I instantly have a shared experience with complete strangers.

These connections and shared experiences are what we miss the most. It keeps us moving forward, sacrificing now for a future that promises a return to doing what we love. When it’s safe to meet up and celebrate your favorite things with friends and strangers alike, that is.

As for now, there’s something beautiful in the fact that we’re all in this together. It’s a shared experience in the worst sort of way, but one that will make us appreciate a movie, or a nice meal out, or even a concert or sporting event that much more.