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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: When It Comes To More Upheaval In Our Lives, We're Out Of Gas

Gasoline Line
Jennifer Lang
A line of cars waiting for gasoline stretches into the street Tuesday in Hemby Bridge, southeast of Charlotte.

I’ll admit it. The other day I was making fun of all the people waiting in line for gas. At one point Charlotte had more empty gas pumps than anywhere else and I tweeted that we were the panic capital of America, the Usain Bolt of panic, so far ahead that we could run the last stretch backwards and still win.


“The whole thing’s gonna be over in a few days,” I said.

My wife – my loving, wise wife – replied: “That’s what they said about the pandemic.”

It doesn’t matter that it looks like the gas shortage IS going to be over shortly – the Colonial Pipeline is pumping gas our way again, after reportedly paying nearly $5 million in ransom to hackers who shut down the pipeline’s computer system.

The point is not the gas. The point is the feeling – that feeling that our normal lives can now crumble at any moment.

We’ve lost so much during these 400-some days of the pandemic. Some of it we’ll never get back – especially the nearly 600,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. But even the less important things will take months or years. How long will it be before a sniffle is just a sniffle? How long will it be before we feel comfortable in a crowd?

The pandemic tripped that primal wire that alerts us to take care of our families and ourselves. That wire is hard to un-trip. Even though the CDC now says it’s generally OK for vaccinated people to go without masks, there will be people who keep wearing them, because the threat is not completely stomped to the ground.

We make fun of ourselves here in the South for clearing the grocery shelves of bread and milk every time a TV weatherperson says the word "snow." But it comes from that same gut reaction: Trouble is coming, and I need to take care of me and mine.

At least the snow is relatively predictable. There’s no telling when some cyber-criminal will decide to just shut down something like a gas pipeline. And there’s definitely no way to know when an invisible virus will change the whole course of our history.

I wonder whether the gas panic would have been the same if we weren’t still riding out the pandemic. Maybe so – Charlotte is a driving town, and gas is as much a staple as groceries. But it might be that COVID-19, among its other damage, left a giant bruise on our psyches. And the gas shortage punched the same spot.

That bruise isn’t going away, not anytime soon. We have to learn to walk around with it. And maybe, over time, we won’t flinch quite so much when something brushes up against it.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.