Is This It for Us?

As of today, April 24, 2020, there are 2,736,979 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide and 192,125 reported deaths. Of those, America has 870,468 cases and 50,031 deaths. Here in Washington there are 12,282 confirmed cases and 682 deaths.

“April is the cruellest month” (T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land)

The world is on lockdown. Our streets are empty. Essential businesses are permitted. Nothing else is open. In New Orleans, rats are swarming in the streets, because the restaurants are closed, the dumpsters are empty, and there’s nothing to eat.

NOLA 2020

“It was about this time that our townsfolk began to show signs of uneasiness. For, from April 18 onward, quantities of dead and dying rats were found in factories and warehouses. In some cases, the animals were killed to put an end to their agony. From the city suburbs to the center of the town in all the byways where the doctor’s duties took him, in every thoroughfare, rats were piled up in garbage cans or lying in long lines in the gutters. The evening papers that day took up the matter and inquired whether or not the city fathers were going to take steps, and what emergency measures were contemplated to abate the particularly disgusting nuisance. Actually the municipality had not contemplated doing anything at all, but now a meeting was convened to discuss the situation.” Albert Camus – The Plague

In The Plague Camus tells us that authorities minimized the threat of an epidemic. He tells us that under-reaction is more dangerous than overreaction. He writes that “most people share that tendency, it’s a universal human frailty: Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky.”

Coronavirus, like the plague that struck Camus’ Oran, crept silently into the world, first in China then stealthily throughout the world. Now it’s crashing “down on our heads from a blue sky.” 

Our numbers are ominous, cases are increasing, hospital systems are overtaxed, a majority of Americans are isolated in their homes. Even now, four months later, we lack adequate testing, a plan, an effective treatment or a vaccine.

For those of us in our 80s this could be it. I’m not being morbid or hyperbolic – just realistic. We’re doing fine now. We live in a great apartment with a big library, a courtyard garden, and a deck view of Lake Washington. My writing life is only slightly changed. I no longer take the bus to my downtown workspace, but I’m quite comfortable working at home. Until there’s a vaccine, at least a year or eighteen months in the future, it’s unlikely our living/working arrangements will change.

It is quite likely that our lifestyle, M’s and mine, will never return to what it was. My life has been built around travel and for the last 20 years M and I have spent part of every year on the road, on our bikes, or on extended stays in foreign capitals. With Covid-19, in the air (literally) we are unlikely to travel, work, or recreate the way we did. We will continue to support the ballet, the theater, and our gym but we don’t expect to participate in any of them until the danger is gone, and that may be in the distant future.

But…we’re the lucky ones. Though we may be vulnerable to the virus because of our age, we haven’t lost our jobs, our income, our health, our health insurance, or any friends or family members. 

This isolation and confinement is strange and inconvenient but bearable. Ordinary people approaching retirement always ask, “How long will I live?” and follow with “Do I have enough retirement savings to make it to the end?” M and I think we’ve answered the second question, but now we ask ourselves, Will we survive and if we do will we be healthy enough to resume the life we loved so much? We’re both optimists, but we’re on the last leg of our journey. I hope our optimism is rewarded. We still have places to go and people to see.

Nevertheless, I started this rumination with a line from T.S. Eliot about April being the cruellest month. He may have given us the right final quote as well. It’s from The Hollow Men:

“This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whisper.”

Comments

  1. “what rough beast
    it’s hour come round at last
    slouches toward Bethlehem to be born”

    These powerful lines of Yeats sum up my feelings at the moment

    Waldo

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