Someone you do not know will die

There is an old Twilight Zone television episode named “Button, Button,” that is a morality tale relevant to our worldwide health pandemic. It reflects on our individual efforts and those of others who choose to either disregard or take seriously social distancing. These practices have been implored by public health officials, ordered by government leaders and are required by many businesses. And yet, many people ignore these recommendations citing political differences with their elected leaders, are suffering the strain of unemployment or argue that these restrictions don’t apply to them because they aren’t making a difference as far as they can tell — likely because they don’t personally know someone who has died or been diagnosed.

Clearly, proximity to COVID-19 makes it personal.

In the memorable Twilight Zone episode, a poor, struggling couple are tempted by a stranger to press a red button with a caution and an incentive. Two things will happen, he says, “Someone you don’t even know will die,” and “then you will receive $200,000.” The offer is particularly tempting to the wife and she and her husband argue. She dismisses the impact of a unknown death by saying it might be some “old peasant” or “somebody with cancer.” His retort, “What if it is someone’s brand new baby!” Their argument ends with the husband throwing away the button unit into the apartment garbage bin. During the night, the wife dumpster dives to retrieve the button. The next morning they argue again and after staring at it all day finally declares, “I’m going to push the button!” She presses it and nothing happens.

Early the next morning, the stranger returns with a briefcase filled with $200,000 cash and informs her “we know you pressed the button.” When she asks what happens now to the button unit, he carefully explains, “it will be reprogrammed and passed on to someone else.”

His final declaration leaves the couple with expressions of horror. He emphatically states, “I can assure you, it will be given to someone you don’t know.” The implication is that when the next recipients receive the button and are tempted to press it, they will die. It’s a haunting and harrowing tale.

As we ignore social distancing, are we effectively pressing the red button that sentences others to infection and even death — people who we do not even know?

While you may not personally know people across the country who are suffering and dying from COVID-19, consider your own social distancing efforts and pray they are not pressing the red button where they live — because, I can assure you, many of them are people you don’t even know.



Dabbles in table tennis, short stories and tropical fish.

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