I thought I had it. I had a bad cough. I ran a fever. I slept a lot, sometimes waking up with the remnants of night sweat on my PJs. When I called my doctor she told me to take a week off school. The seriousness of her response didn’t go very far to allay my fear that I had it.
I lay in bed heavy with the thought that I was a feverish piece of history, one of those about whom the media frenzy and the collective obsession of the country’s population focused. I feared less my own death and more my own future as a Corona carrier. I imagined life as a survivor, as someone who’d had the infectious disease that shut down the globe. Would I be forever stigmatized because of the magnitude of the pandemic? I’m old enough to remember the worst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The world was unkind to those who were ‘positive.’ How would I fare, even after the crisis had passed, as someone who had the Corona.
I probably had the flu, just the good old-fashioned flu. My doctor was not too terribly worried. You can go to the ER, she said, and they will test you for influenza A and B. But they will need to get the state’s permission to test for the Corona. I decided to forego the ER and take the flu medication she prescribed. That was a few days ago. I’ve felt fine. I was sick, to be sure, but not that sick.
I ventured out once, when I was still symptomatic, to the hardware store. I needed something for the studio I am building. But I was also stir crazy and needed to be out of the house, into the community I value and that values me. When I arrived at the store, I saw a few people I knew. You sound sick, they said. I told them about the cough I had and moved on quickly toward the lumber section. A former student working there rang me up and then told me I should get tested. Upon further reflection, it felt like a selfish thing to do, to go public with whatever ailed me. I told myself, not again. Only three days later have I ventured out now that my symptoms have gone.
We are in strange waters, People. Very strange indeed. In my fifty-seven years on the planet I have never seen anything like this. Not even remotely. My wife and I lived in Panama on 9/11 and during its aftermath so we didn’t experience the shock the country underwent from those attacks.
The market does something dramatic almost everyday it’s open. I’m no economist, but I know that when the Dow nosedives one day, then rallies, then takes another hit, the economy is in trouble. I just read about the $850 billion bailout package the Trump administration wants to help stop the bleeding. When Donald Trump wants the government to intervene, it must be serious.
Closings, quarantines, and movie stars are testing positive. Major sporting events and other cultural events stopped. Las Vegas hotel casinos are closing. The last time these establishments took a break was when the clubs observed a minute of silence when Howard Hughes died in 1976. I was all of fourteen. Yesterday, the bishop of my diocese, based on CDC recommendations, cancelled church for eight weeks. Easter got cancelled. Damn. I didn’t think it was the kind of thing that could get cancelled. Did Anglicans go to church during while the Luftwaffe bombed the hell out of London? I don’t know.
I know this. There’s no more toilet paper in the Safeway where my little town shops. I mean none. No more milk. No more baby wipes. And, get this, no more onions. The onions are gone. Apparently, when you cut an onion open it sucks up bacteria. Perhaps it will suck the Corona right up as well and we can all get back to normal. Someone please tell the CDC about the onions. Sometimes the solutions we need are right in front of us.
The missing toilet paper confused me but didn’t worry me. Maybe people wrap the onion in toilet paper and that disinfects the home. The other scarcity worries. The pasta is gone, as are some other produce and vegetables. The shelves, usually fully stocked, nicely faced, and attractive, were a mess. Clearly, there have been a lot of shoppers. But what if this is a supply line issue as well. My daughter and I started to stock up on canned goods and non-perishables. I was very clear with her. We are not going to hoard and we are going to leave stuff for others. I was very proud of her when she brought some out-of -sight packages of angel hair pasta to the front of the shelves. While we were still in the pasta section, a man came by and took one of the long, rectangular boxes. She is a tremendous person. I can think of no better person by my side to weather this storm.
My school is cancelled for two weeks. I’m wondering how we are going to make the time up. A student I saw at the store is worried he won’t get to have a graduation ceremony. I had him two years. He’s worked hard. He’s one of the most deserving students of a graduation ceremony I know. I’m wondering if the cancellation continues are they going to stop paying me. If we get back to classes I’m wondering what I am going to do when all of my male students extend their hands for a hand shake, a fist bump, or one of their secret hand moves that I can never figure out until after it’s gone out of fashion and they come up with another digital gyration.
Here’s one of the most challenging facets of this crisis and that which has me the most concerned. The Corona is transmitted among people by simple human contact. I was sure it was everything Joe Biden could do not to shake the hand of the moderators at the last debate. He restrained himself. I was impressed. But it was not something that comes naturally to him. The focus on ‘social distancing’, no hand shaking, six feet apart, etc, -that which the outbreak currently requires of us-can distance us both physically and emotionally from others.
I need other people in my life. As I get older, I seem to be more comfortable being by myself and keeping my own company, but I still need other human beings in my life. The longer this thing goes the more I expect that increased restrictive measures will be necessary. It already feels terribly isolating and now restaurants, schools, and churches have shut down in face of the crisis. We are hard- wired to keep each other’s company but in order not to contract this disease, we have to redo our circuitry.
As someone who has experienced the power of healing at the hands of others-through their prayers, counsel, company, generosity- I worry about how our society will function from this forced isolation. I worry about the new reality left by the wake of the Corona. We don’t need more reasons to trust each other less. The social distance amongst us prior to this outbreak was already pretty severe. Yesterday, I heard people I know indiscriminately blame Asians and their dietary choices for where we are. Another person couldn’t understand why people traveled outside of the country when there was so much in this country to see.
When Jesus reached out and put his hands on those with leprosy, he did so at some risk to himself and his health. Theologies that claim he had little or no risk of contracting the illnesses of others because of his divine status ignore a foundational theological principal orthodox Christianity attributes to him: he was also fully human. As such, he had no built in immunity to contagious disease. Still, according to the biblical record, he did touch those who were infected and quite often, those he touched experienced healing.
I think I will leave the development of the cure for the Corona up to the scientists and healthcare professionals. They have far more skill, resources, and support than either Jesus or myself. But, in the midst of this crisis and as the voices of caution continue to urge me to self-imposed quarantine, I am going to take my cues as how to live my life from Jesus of Nazareth. I don’t think he would have me act foolishly or put people I love and who love me in harm’s way. But I do think-if I’ve learned anything at all from the man-he would urge me not to forget my neighbor, not to be so concerned with my own self-protection that I neglect the suffering of others.
The man did not value social distancing. In fact, when others questioned why he polluted himself through contact with undesirables such as women, children, non-Jews, and sinners, he doubled-down and rejected self-protection in favor of protecting others.
I’m not there. I’m too self-interested and invested in the outcome of my life. Trouble is, the Corona has changed my life-and yours-perhaps irrevocably. The outcome of my life was never something I had any control over, even when face masks were just for hospitals and neo-natal units. Whatever our lives look like as this situation plays out, perhaps we’ll live a little more in the moment, grateful for the breath we take and share with others, cognizant of our vulnerability and deeply appreciative of any happinesses that we are fortunate enough to grasp.