I will write in my journal that today was not a good day. It began with news of a surge in diagnoses and deaths from covid-19 in New York and ended with the governor’s order that Californians must stay home. This is going to be bad before it gets better, but that implies hope.
Such days bring fear up from the belly into the eyes and ears and leave great deposits of fear, like shoals of obsidian sand, in the sheltered harbors of the heart. But in the hours in between, I was offered a vista of high clouds following recent rain, and of the blue Pacific.
There was also this: On many cartons of medical supplies donated by a Chinese company to the people of Italy were written words of the 1st century Roman philosopher Seneca.
“We are waves of the same sea, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden”
“To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging. Produce them in your mind, as you know them from experience or from history: the court of Hadrian, of Antoninus. The courts of Philip, Alexander, Croesus. All just the same. Only the people are different.”
– Marcus Aurelius, concerning the Antonine Plague in the second century AD.
It is the different people that’s the issue, though, isn’t it? Because certainly this is not the end of the world or the end of humanity. The Antonine Plague killed between 10 and 18 million people, at a time when the population of the world was about 125 million. Today there are 7.6 billion. Most of us will survive. Will I be one of them? Will you, or your older or more vulnerable loved ones?
Aurelius was Roman emperor and in the past day there have been over 475 deaths in Italy alone. In the past few days, the rate of infections and deaths has spiked worldwide. This was predicted. Now we’re afraid. What can we do?
I’m a typical introvert; at least, a little more toward that end of the spectrum. Not much for larger groups and crowds, generally. You’ll never hear me say, “Let’s go to Vegas, Baby!” But one thing I know about myself is that, as much as I normally expend energy around other people and recharge in solitude, in times of crisis I like to be with others. I feel the urge to be together and work together. When the Thomas Fire came, and then the mudslide and the outages and road closures, I drew strength from others. It was like my introvert poles temporarily switched. Now, frankly, I would like hugs.I would like to be able to hug my friends and neighbors, shake hands with strangers. A Grateful Dead show would be awesome. And I’m looking forward to that future, someday. In the meantime, we have to find other ways to be kind and love each other, and take care of each other so we can live on, to the bright morning of once-again hugs.
So how do we get through this? Together, apart. We have to stay apart to do this together. John Green said this so beautifully on YouTube last night, and I’ll like that below.
Whoever you are, I love you. From here at my desk, alone in my condo on the west coast of California, please know that. And I would embrace you if I could. We have to get through this together. If you have one of those who thinks your separation doesn’t matter, or that anyone can afford to be defiant in the face of this disease, please rethink. Please be kind. You don’t want to kill your parents or grandparents. Get away from other people to break the chain of infection. Please be kind to each other. Do the hard things, the brave things, the loving things and remember
THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
We spend our lives trying to discern where we end and the rest of the world begins. There is a strange and sorrowful loneliness to this, to being a creature that carries its fragile sense of self in a bag of skin on an endless pilgrimage to some promised land of belonging. We are willing to erect many defenses to hedge against that loneliness and fortress our fragility. But every once in a while, we encounter another such creature who reminds us with the sweetness of persistent yet undemanding affection that we need not walk alone.
“Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.” —Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism”