“We’re all going to die!”
No one I know is actually saying that, or even screaming it.
But today I’m feeling it.
I catch a story out of New York about a young man dying, and quickly shut it off.
I talk on the phone with a friend who took his family south last week, despite his doctor warning him not to, and who now resents having to self-isolate for two weeks with the kids. I want to shoot my friend.
I’m in line at the local supermarket when the Chinese-looking man in front of me coughs into his sleeve. I quickly back away.
A friend e-mails me a link from Foreign Affairs that says “The Real Pandemic Danger Is Social Collapse.” I wonder if my freezer-ful of food and stash of small bills will be enough without the shotgun too.
I can’t stop checking the daily body count on my COVID-19 Tracker, even though I know it will make me even more anxious. Maybe I’m an anxiety addict, unable to stop hitting up on what will bring me down.
All those bromides about This Too Shall Pass and We’ll Get Through It and Stay Positive!….are no match for my rising panic.
I didn’t used to be like this. As long ago as last week, I was fairly rational both inside my psyche and out.
My view then was that, sure, a lot more people would get sick, but that Canada wasn’t doing half bad in the viral sweepstakes. So the death rate wouldn’t be anywhere near Italy’s or Britain’s or America’s. And since four in five patients recover from COVID 19, odds are it won’t bother with me. Little. Old. Me.
But yesterday I did something really silly that sent me into a state of fear and loathing. When we drove up to the cottage, fleeing to higher ground beyond the city, I asked Jean if we should worry.
Her response was jarring. It matched what many other doctors are saying, whether they’re in the belly of the beast in Milan or in front of the cameras in Ottawa.
The healthcare system could be overwhelmed. Get ready for much more disease and death. It will not end for many months……
“You, my dear, are especially vulnerable,” she said.
“You’re 70. You’re old.”
“But you’re 77 for heaven’s sake!”
“Okay, I’m older. But that doesn’t make you younger. Besides, you’re compromised.”
“I am? How?”
“What’s wrong with my heart?!”
“It has a pacemaker.”
“But I’m fit.”
“You’re fit and compromised.”
I glared over the steering wheel onto the road. How dare the woman I love tell me the truth.
We arrive at the cottage, make dinner and in a rush to distract ourselves, we watch a Netflix series about ISIS blowing up Sweden.
When I wake this morning, the despair has slunk away.
I’m already marshalling my defences if it attacks again. When I was depressed 10 years ago after open-heart surgery I never once played any music to sooth my battered soul. So this morning, I amp-ed up my Beethoven, the more magisterial, the better. It is now beating holes in my ear-drums on its way to my shaky psyche.
I’m also turning to something I had no time for in The Busy Days:
I didn’t even have to dig into my Norton Anthology that’s been a door-stop for the past 20 years.
A friend sent this to me, as I send it now to you.
“Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness……
….If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.”