COVID-19 is too sterile a name for the disease that’s wreaking havoc around the world. It’s like turning on a police scanner and hearing an APB about a Smart Car whose driver is hellbent on running red lights. Surely such a problem would shortly take care of itself. Somebody driving an insanely bloated pick up truck would crush the Smart Car and its driver within a few intersections.
As Brian Wilson sang long ago, I was not made for these times. I hate the contagion of ginormous pick up trucks driven with no vocational purpose other than telling the world that your real job is being an asshole. Yesterday I dared to make comments on some Facebook news posts, and I was dismayed to learn firsthand just how deeply trolls have infected social media. I didn’t succumb to the temptation of insulting them back. I spent half of my formative years in the sub basement of the working class Midwest. My tongue can be as sharp as my imagination is fearless. While I am well built for solitude, I long ago grew tired of being ghosted because I was willing to say or write appalling words to someone.
My daughter and I were in line at a grocery a few days ago, and her comment on the National Enquirer cover above shown above was, “How the hell do you get infected with death?”
She uttered these words in a loud, grainy Wilson Pickett sort of voice. Does anyone else have special voices for their pets? It’s kind of like imagining what a pet would say if they could talk but actually saying those imagined words aloud in a different timbre. I’m not sure what sort of roughshod life our guinea pig L’Orange was living before we adopted him, but Eileen gave him a whiskey-and-cigars voice on the day we brought him home. He’s fearless in sharing his opinions, and his fund of knowledge is broad enough to know that the Dough Boys were badasses. His nemesis is our second guinea pig Bud. L’Orange has let it be known that he is like Blu-Ray and Bud is just Betamax. Bud—who has a falsetto voice, btw—says that L’Orange is too pooped to pop anyway.
Yesterday, L’Orange announced that the novel coronavirus outbreak began with Bud and that it should be renamed the Budonic Plague. When Eileen gives voice to our guinea pigs, it’s like a piece-by-piece revelation of her inner world. There’s a pun stuck in Budonic that implies her political leanings, which is the most anyone is going to hear from her on the matter. When she took U.S. History a couple years ago, she refused to turn in a weekly paragraph assignment about current events on the grounds that she would not be compelled to reveal her political opinions. She took a C in the class and life went on. I was both surprised and relieved that she registered to vote and has actually voted.
I’m dismayed and sometimes angered at the level of public denial and myth-making in the wake of the current outbreak. Then I consider that St. Paul was not wrong when he wrote that by judging others, we convict ourselves (Romans 2:1). I have no professional or moral authority to advise anyone in matters of public health. I still bookend my days with morning and evening cigarettes. I’d guess that most of the people who are crowing on about flu vs. COVID-19 deaths would be blown away to learn just how many people die from tobacco use every year.
I happen to have the dubious distinction of having been quarantined due to a different disease. My sister and I contracted hepatitis A in 1982, and we were quarantined for a month. My family had recently moved, and we had no friends yet but each other. We had a sudden descent into poverty, and infectious disease was there to welcome us. I didn’t mind the quarantine. I loved missing a month of school. I don’t recall even trying to open any doors of our house to go outside. I watched too much television and was fascinated by the wide array of extreme generic food my mom stockpiled for the quarantine. This happened in the days when generics were fairly new to grocery stores. Back then generic items had packaging with a plain white background and black block lettering declaring the contents inside. My favorite quarantine snack was a PEANUT BUTTER and government cheese sandwich.
A few months before the quarantine, we happened to do Bible school at an apocalyptic themed church. The Bible school happened during an era when school-aged children still had the freedom to lead lives with compartments that were largely unknown to their parents. While walking through a playground, my sister and I received an invitation to the church, and we decided spontaneously that we should try it all on our own. Who knows why kids did such things with the freedom they had. When my husband was around the same age in the 60’s, he started hanging around a junk yard where he learned to drive a pick up truck.
At the End Times church Bible school, all teaching was done though the lens of Revelation. Life was full of the signs that spiritual warfare was leading shortly to Judgement Day. Beware of finding the numbers 666 on license plates and in telephone books. Learn from the terrible examples of those who’ve fallen prey to Satan, and so on.
Our time at the Bible school was something that I thought I’d tucked away along with other people, things and places I knew in the middle class days of my early childhood. However, a dread of the unseen reared its head during the quarantine. If I slept on my side and burrowed my head deeply enough into my pillow, I could hear my pulse and sometimes imagined that I was hearing the sound of Satan emerging from the molten core of the earth. He was at the edge of the core wielding a pickaxe, and the End Times would begin when he reached the surface of Earth. Such a thought didn’t terrify me because I figured he’d need years to finish his task.
Last week I discovered that my mind hasn’t entirely uncoupled disease from Revelation. I watched a woman grab the last cylinder of disinfectant wipes on a store shelf. She had such a look of relief and anticipation on her face that I wondered if she was going to consume the wipes much like St. John the Divine ate the scroll (Rev 10:8-10).
For anyone who may face isolation during this outbreak, I’d recommend cracking your imagination wide open to cope. Through enduring quarantine, I learned to weave my memories and learning into daydreams that have protected me from boredom throughout the years. As all things both good and bad come to an end, this outbreak too will pass.
As for my own anxieties at this time, I worry more about infecting someone else than the potential reality of being ill myself. Admittedly, it is odd that I’d worry about things out of order, but that is how my mind works.