March 2020

Virtual Coffee Talk is the Best Option for Today

The news and events of the past month have given me a lot to think about. A lot. There have been pandemics and epidemics in my lifetime but, for the most part, I have been able to relegate them to other people, other places. Although the current numbers of people diagnosed with COVID-19 seem low, and the recovery rate is much better than it has been for other epidemics, there is something more frightening and compelling about this one.

I am tempted to buy into conspiracy theories, which are comforting in a twisted sort of way. I would prefer to believe that Evil Geniuses are in charge of some sinister plan rather than believe that I, too, am subject to nature’s apparent randomness, but when Disney, the NBA, the NFL, and the Vatican suddenly shuttered their profit-making venues, I knew in my bones that Evil Geniuses were not in charge and faced the terrifying prospect that no human beings were in control, that we were, in fact, passengers on a plane without a pilot.

I find comfort in prayer and faith, and I believe in the eventual triumph of Good over Evil, but God has historically not exempt even His most beloved and faithful from earthly pain, deprivation, and suffering. Quite the contrary. We might take comfort in the stories of Noah, Lot, and Joshua, but we must also take into account the stories of Job, Jonah, Jesus, the Martyred Saints, and the victims of the Holocaust.

Cancun, Mexico, where I live, looks and feels very much the same as always. There are fewer planes flying over, and, with schools shut down, weekday traffic is somewhat lighter. Bars and casinos are closed as of today, but I have never been to a local bar or casino. Mexico’s cases of COVID-19 so far are increasing arithmetically rather than geometrically, and today the first death was reported in the country.

Since I am retired, my daily routine has changed very little, if at all, but the mental and emotional backdrop of those comforting routines is tinged with fears, doubts, and “what if’s.” The underlying reality is uncertainty about almost everything, especially people’s ability to keep working in tourist-fueled industries that, from one day to the next, slowed down to a near stop.

After days of worrying about myself because I am part of the demographic at higher risk of death from the virus, I realized that the voluntary sheltering, the distant air-kisses, the elbow clicks in lieu of handshakes, the handwashing, the batman coughs and sneezes are not about me protecting myself. This disease, compared with, say, HIV Aids in its heyday, is relatively mild and survivable.

The serious danger, and the reason for all the precautions, is that the virus is mutable and very, very contagious. In this globalized world, contagion has not arrived from abroad in days or weeks, but in minutes and hours. It is also dangerous because its relatively survivable nature makes it tempting to deny its importance.

Enough cases, however, even survivable ones, can shut down economies (involuntarily, not voluntarily as is the case for many economic activities today), overwhelm hospitals and care facilities, and put people at risk from dying of injuries and illnesses that, in ordinary circumstances would not be lethal with proper care. We live, move, work, and entertain ourselves in herds. We must isolate for a time if we want to survive, not just as individuals, but as a species.

There are probably far more lethal germs in my kitchen right this minute, but my immune system knows how to resist them and, if necessary, fight them. Medical science has additional weapons to help nature along. This is not true for the COVID-19 virus.

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