Our town is out of toilet paper. Toilet paper! I read about a grocery store owner who had stocked up on the usuals for disaster-type situations; canned goods etc in case people lost their minds and went hoardy, but he never guessed there’d be a run on toilet paper.
First off, we do NOT have a shortage of toilet paper in our country. Stop hoarding toilet paper people!
What we do have is humans being human. Oh, how we need to feel in control. The thing is, we never really are. Being in control is always just an illusion, but the ego struggles with accepting this. Bad news shows up and we toss it around in our brains like a crazed marble in a pinball machine, trying to find a way to make the bad news go away.
None of us are immune to the ego’s persuasive charms. When I first heard the news we were out of toilet paper, I scoffed. What the hell is wrong with people?
Lots of others agreed. Comments flooded Facebook and Twitter, asking if people were planning on spending a quarantine dressing up as toilet paper mummies, or what.
“Covid-19 effects your breathing not your bum” one person said. I laughed, but then I thought, well, there could be diarrhea. But even so, how many packs of toilet paper do you really need? Turns out diarrhea isn’t even a side effect of the Coronavirus.
The only thing creating a shortage is people thinking there’s a shortage. Interesting how that works.
I closed my iPad, shaking my head at human stupidity, and then I thought, Wait a minute. How much toilet paper do we have? Even as Common Sense rolled its eyes, Ego hustled me down the hall and made me look in every bathroom closet to do a roll count and calculation. By my estimate we have a month’s supply. Maybe two if we ration out the squares instead of just pulling them off the roll all willy-nilly.
”FOR GOD SAKES, RATION OUT THE SQUARES!” Ego screamed, wringing his hands.
We were going to run out of toilet paper. I just knew it. Oh why hadn’t I stocked up when I had the chance? We were done for. Remember back in the old days when aisles used to be filled with all sort of choices and you could buy all the toilet paper you wanted? You know, like last week?
I enlightened Darcy of the grim situation. It took a bit of time to spark even a bit of panic, but I finally managed to get him at least mildly interested.
“Maybe we should buy a few more flats of canned goods too.” I continued. “Beans and chickpeas, high calorie stuff like that. Just in case.“
“But if we live on beans we’re just going to need more toilet paper!” He pointed out.
Oh God, he was right. Everything was coming undone. There was no solid ground to be had.
The ego seductively whispered, “Calm down. If you can just manage to find a case lot of toilet paper and a pallet or two of beans and sanitizer, everything will be alright. The stock market crash, North Korea getting all nuclear-trigger-happy, the pandemic, global warming, none of it will have any consequence for you or your loved ones, I promise. But only if you stock up on toilet paper, sanitizer and beans.”
And so comes the wave of relief. Yes! Finally. Here is something I can do about it. Everything will be okay. All I have to do is find enough toilet paper, sanitizer and beans, and then the future will be back in my control.
Which is all bullshit of course. We don’t control anything. You can fill your house with toilet paper, sanitizer and beans to the rafters, and you are still going to die. If not now, then later. The world is going to do what the world is going to do. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight for social change or use some common sense, but panicking is only going to lead to worse problems. Like toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages. If no one had panicked there would still be plenty for all, just like there has always been.
We bought a cup of coffee at a restaurant yesterday and the owner said he was unable to get any hand sanitizer, because everywhere was sold out. These are the sorts of places we need sanitizer. Fat lot of good it does standing in rows on a shelf in someone’s house gathering dust, while public places go without.
What we need is for everyone, self included, to take a collective deep breath and think about each other instead of ourselves. This is not the end of the world, even if it kind of feels like it. Look back through history and you will see that it has always been thus. Before vaccines there were all kinds of terrifying epidemics-polio, measles, the bubonic plague-but humanity still prevailed. Stock markets go up, then they go down, then they go up again and then they crash, but the world keeps spinning around. People panic and chaos, even war, ensues. People calm down, and peace returns. There is always a never-ending cycle of growth, death and rebirth to every single aspect of life on this planet.
Maybe we need to find out when the next shipment of toilet paper arrives at a store near us, and then those who are able, need to go down with whatever rolls from their own bathrooms they can spare, and offer it up to the madding crowd. Maybe the sight of people sharing, instead of hoarding, will help us all see what we are becoming, so we can find the strength to put our cartload of toilet paper back on the shelf and calm down.
There is no shame in saying, You know what? I let fear get the best of me. Turns out I have seven lifetimes worth of toilet paper, but I really only need one. Here. Have some of mine back. Imagine the impact that could have.
As I noted earlier, I totally get the fear. I feel it too. We all do. But this is a time for summoning the best in us. Of showing each other all the compassion we can muster. If anything, we should be hugging each other instead of wrestling packs of three-ply out of each other’s arms. Except, well, Corvid-19, so maybe elbow bump each other instead; but gently and slowly, with plenty of eye contact and meaning.
No one knows what is really going to happen. But the truth is, we never have. And furthermore, we never will. If you think about it, this is both unsettling and deeply comforting all at the same time All we know for sure is we are here together at this moment in time and that’s pretty incredible. So have a little faith. Pull together. This too shall pass, and when it does let us feel proud of ourselves for how we got through it. Let’s be an example to our children of what the future world can look like. Let’s find ways to spread kindness, joy and hope, instead of fuelling fear. Kindness is just as contagious as fear.
In fact, let’s commit to doing at least 19 acts of kindness before this latest panic passes. Whenever you feel overcome with fear, take a deep breath and do something kind for someone else instead. We could call it Kind-19. You never know. It could become infectious. If we’re lucky, it might spread its way around globe.
We could even set a roll of toilet paper out on our front step for whoever needs it, as a symbol of our compassion and solidarity with the human race. As a beacon of hope. Or simply just to say, I overreacted but now I am here for you. We are in this thing together. For better or worse. Here, have some of my toilet paper.