Maybe, as Rachel Maddow said, we had no clear tipping point with regard to COVID-19, but March 12 felt like it to me. Broadway, Major League Baseball, March Madness, professional hockey, the Philadelphia Orchestra, whole school districts, and much more went dark. The night before that, the National Basketball Association. COVID-19 was doing the wave, and the wave had come to our part of the stadium.
I’ve kept a journal through a few other significant and poignant times—training with a new guide dog, accompanying my identical twin brother through ALS to death. Now, I want to record the events of this pandemic, believing I will survive the disease if I get it, but not being able to have complete certainty that, at 68, I will bring this account to a neat, rounded close. How do journalists covering a war feel? Do they like the adrenaline of danger? Does it wear them down, eventually?
I admit I have a part that likes being present for this very time, but I don’t think it’s the love of danger. I’m not that brave. I think it has something to do with slowing life down, something I’ve wanted, but have struggled to do. I don’t always know what, out of all the good things life has to offer, to pass up, so I find myself running too headlong through days, having leaned too far forward for my feet to catch up with my upper body.
Already, I have the luxury of working from home as a contractor. I don’t have to wait for some employer to give me permission to take myself out of contagion’s way. Like every responsible citizen, I will have to wrestle with questions I’m not used to asking: How desperate will a medical need have to get before I would go to a hospital? When would it become absolutely necessary for me to venture into a grocery store? What do we do if one of us in the house gets sick?
Back on March 12th, Ona (my wife) and I made gathering supplies the priority of the day. We put in a double order from the food delivery service. I shopped locally to meet immediate needs and to fill in with items already sold out online. With a few sacrifices, we can probably last for from three to four weeks without having to go out for more essentials.
Ona’s son lives with us. Ona called him “the wild card” in our home, not because he has a touch of that invincibility present in many people under 25, but because he will likely not quarantine himself as rigorously as we will. He’s working from home, but can we expect him not to visit his girlfriend or his father and brother? If he travels, should we strongly request that he stay elsewhere until the heat dies down?
I am the oldest in this household and probably the most vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Every doctor who has listened to my lungs said they sound good and clear. The dry cough I’ve had for several years? The result of acid reflux, allergies, or maybe even something neurogenic—a polite way of saying it’s all in my head. At any rate, no medical person believes it to be a pulmonary problem. If I developed COVID-19, how would I know that coughs now came from that? Such camouflage reminds me how the doctors said, too late, that my father’s lung cancer looked too much like the lung damage from exposure to platinum dust in the refinery where he worked to be detected.
But I’ve strayed from the benefits of slowing down. Actually, I’m not sure how much my life will change. Since I already spend most of my time at home, what will I be cutting out? Let’s see: a few medical appointments, choir rehearsals, trips into the city to run errands, but most of all, all the readings, concerts, plays, restaurants, and other good stuff I’m privileged to enjoy. I’ll miss them, but will I be happy for more time to sort through clutter, read, really listen to music with attention, and call all the friends I’ve neglected? I think so. We’ll see if I use the time well without simply turning it into another way of pressuring myself to squeeze out “worthy pursuits” during these days.
Even to think such thoughts suggests a confidence that COVID-19 won’t hit me or those I love too hard. Such ponderings will look awfully foolish if I’m wrong. So, Dan, proceed with humility, as well as hope.