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Minnich: Quarantining, rationing, what if this is all just a practice run?

If we thought being quarantined was unthinkable, that virtually rationing toilet paper and other things was unthinkable, what else might be unthinkable — but casting growing shadows on the future.

What if this shutdown of life as we know it is only a dress rehearsal for something else that we just have refused to deal with?

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Pandemics don’t happen to Americans. We’re above all that.

We don’t worry about climate change, either. We shouldn’t have to make too many sacrifices in the interests of the planet, because we own the planet. Or at least we run it. Or should, right? It was put here by God for us to exploit; says so in the Good Book.

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But if we take a look around now at the unthinkable changes in life that have taken place over just a month or so, we should be able to picture ourselves sitting riveted to our TVs or other devices as the news breaks that Mother Earth just tipped the scales toward the irredeemable consequences of neglect.

The pictures of empty streets on TV are surreal. I got in my car and drove around to see what the world closer to home looks like; stayed in the car, kept to myself. Motivated by curiosity and caution in that dance-with-death drive that leads to discovery or destruction through the ages and across species.

Traffic was almost non-existent. Empty parking lots in strip malls and around stores and restaurants took me back to an America that actually took a day of rest on the Sabbath and shut down business for national holidays. But this was no religious pause, nor a display of patriotism. This was the new reality.

The dystopian scenes were straight out of a “Planet of the Apes flick,” but without the popcorn.

Disaster movies have always been popular. Aliens attack and humanity fights back to survive in wars of the worlds. Robinson Crusoe is marooned on a remote island with little likelihood of rescue and is hunted by cannibals looking to fill their cookpot.

We know all about threats from strangers, beings not like us. We thought we could just build walls. But now the walls are prisons, and we are captives seeking companionship.

But not too much; some of us stocked up on guns and ammo, in case we have unwanted visitors after our stash. Or, maybe, if things get bad enough, we will need something more potent than spears when we go hunting ... in the neighborhood.

 But let’s not go there; some of the good news is about how people are helping people. Heroic medical workers, EMTs, volunteers in food drives, helping and supporting each other, strangers and neighbors.

 Things that seemed important a few weeks ago have faded away. But we should remember some of the old bad news, because those stories were instructive.

All those fires in California and the tornados in the South and the scenes of millions of kangaroos and koala bears roasting on the grassy flats of Australia were just the equivalent of the new reality arriving.

The floods used to happen in Bangladesh and China and other places, not in Texas and Mississippi. Or Annapolis, or Fells Point.

If what we’re living right now was unthinkable three months ago, why couldn’t the warnings about the messages in rising sea levels and diminishing access to clean air and water — dismissed by too many as unthinkable — become tomorrow’s reality?

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We don’t have enough masks and gowns and other protections for medical workers because leaders took it off the priority lists at budget time, as we do roads, bridge repairs, and school needs — anything that costs money but does not serve the interests of the moneyed crowd.

You can’t plan for everything, but you can be ready to plan, and we were not, are not, and politics being what it is, never will be.

This might be a practice run for a much bigger problem.

Dean Minnich retired from journalism and served two terms as a county commissioner. His column appears on Thursday. Reach him at dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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