Saturday, May 16, 2020

COVID-19 and Our Way of Life

COVID-19 and Our Way of Life: 

I’ve heard too many people say, “I want this quarantine over because I’m sick of being in this house.” I’ve also heard that “they” are making “too much of a big deal about this. People die of other things.” Well, yes, people die of other things, but arguing that people die of other things is ignoring the fact that COVID-19 is highly contagious and people who may be carriers are often asymptomatic. Too many people in this country see this as a “Leftist conspiracy” designed to “persecute” the saint in the White House.  

When will COVID-19 be eradicated from our midst?  We don’t know, and a vaccine seems to be somewhere in the distant future.  This disease has taken its toll on our way of life.  This spring in Louisiana brought none of the festivals we so love.  St. Patrick’s Day festivities were non-existent. French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, and Greek Fest all were cancelled in the wake of this pandemic. I totally understand the frustration many people feel.  Our anger and frustration does not alone derive from our love of partying and frivolity and our role as the nation’s hedonists (our more judgmental countrymen sometimes label us residents of Louisiana as decadent hedonists). These events and all of our private parties (crawfish boils, church fairs, etc.) reflect our love of life and our communal spirit.  We see friends at these events.  We shake hands, hug, and kiss. We lock hands and sing together.  When Springsteen sang “We Shall Overcome” at Jazz Fest in 2006, we wept together, shared tissues, and hugged.  We share communal meals at church celebrations, and we celebrate events like Mother’s Day with a crawfish boil. We mourn out community; we miss the family and friends we cannot see. Even when we see each other, we do so from safe distances.  We mourn those hugs and lost caresses. 

We mourn for those who have lost their jobs and revenue. Too many of our friends and neighbors no longer have income.  Many of the people who could ill afford to lose jobs have done so.  Economies across the globe are reeling, and we don’t know if even a loosening of restrictions will help in the long run.  The corona cases could spike again.  The hospitals could fill in record time.  We again could face lockdown. 

We also mourn those lost to this virus.  Many of our loved ones have succumbed to this illness.  Many of our loved ones are healthcare professionals who risk their lives daily.  Friends and neighbors work in hospitals, grocery stores, and essential businesses.  They deliver groceries and other goods.  The mail carrier wears gloves and a mask; the nurses and other healthcare professionals have daily temperature checks. 

Will there be a vaccine or a cure? Maybe a vaccine, but no one knows when.  What will happen is that this virus will weave itself into our lives, into our psyches.  We will accept its insidious presence as we did polio, measles, and other debilitating diseases.  We will watch as people sicken and sometimes die.  Living with COVID-19 will become part of our daily lives, as polio was part of our culture in another generation.   We will mourn those who die and celebrate those who recover.  We will learn to adjust—no more hand shakes at church, no more casual kiss when greeting friends.

What will we learn? We have learned the value of people and of all we took for granted.  We have explored our neighborhoods while we exercised, talk to our friends from a safe distance, and taken pleasure in simple things.  A shared movie in the den is a treat.  Eventually, we will have gatherings even with the threat of COVID-19. Our gatherings will be on our outdoor patios.  Each guest will pour wine with sanitary wipes.  We will adapt to handshakes being a thing of the past. Hopefully, we will see the wisdom in the masks as a means of keeping each other safe and look beyond our own convenience. We may pour into the Superdome to see our Saints while we wear masks. I will start the school year wearing a mask and making sure kids are seated far apart.  

This is life in the era of COVID-19. Other eras have lived through plague, polio, and other devastating illnesses.  Eventually, life settled into a rhythm for our ancestors.  It will do so again.  We will adapt to the rhythm.  Hopefully, we can adjust with grace and courtesy for others.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Modern Plague: COVID19

A Modern Plague:

In previous years, I'd only thought of a disease that could shut down a global economy and take millions of lives as a phenomenon occurring in far distant times, not one afflicting us in a more modern age.  After all, the Great Influenza was my grandmother's generation; tuberculosis also afflicted family members of another generation. Images of priests dying over their congregation's prostrate bodies as they performed last rites were relegated to the medieval era of Chaucer. As a United States citizen, I'd heard of swine flu, Ebola, etc.; however, I'd known of few people actually afflicted with those illnesses.  As a resident of Louisiana, I'd heard of yellow fever killing many people, but I'd witnessed nothing that took so many lives or disrupted the global economy in such a destructive manner, as has COVID19. 

News headlines blare out the number of dead around the globe.  The U. S. president and his staff deflect, evade, and sometimes answer questions on the health of the economy as well as the dire shape of our health care system.  Foreign leaders field similar questions from their press. None of them know when we will awaken from a nightmare that has left the most vulnerable at risk and helpless to fight a sinister killer. Some will survive; some will die.  Ironically, your chances of conquering this killer depend upon the resiliency of your immune system and the strength of your DNA.  Scientists and health care workers do not know just what keeps some people healthy or asymptomatic; they don't know why some people are afflicted but recover while others die. It's the proverbial luck of the draw. Yes, we have statistics.  Most who die are older or have pre-existing health problems. Some people, however, are young and die. Some were healthy and die.  There is still so much we don't know.  Will we ever?

My husband and I went to our local grocery last night, wearing masks.  I thought of so many of the doctors and nurses I personally know who are fighting this killer on the front lines.  They are running out of supplies; they are watching helplessly as people die.  Governors plead with the government for more ventilators. My young cousin faces this daily in his job as a nurse.  Another young friend is pregnant, nursing ill people while she carries the new life inside her.  Then, there are the many people who are silent and often not acknowledged in this battle. My mail carrier comes to our front door wearing a mask and gloves. God bless him as he goes about his job!  The garbage collectors pick up the trash placed at the edge of our lawns wearing gloves and masks. The young woman who checked us out last night at the grocery did so behind Plexiglas.  She wore a mask and gloves, and I wondered at her resolve.  With her long braids and smile behind the mask, she looked no older than the kids I teach.  I'm sure she works for minimum wage. I sincerely hope no one ever puts down these people who work minimum wage jobs. These are the people dying and fighting the good fight (along with the health care professionals) so that we still have essential services.  

When will our lives be "normal"? I live in New Orleans, in south Louisiana. We are a people who love to hug. We have festivals, many of which have been cancelled until the fall. We host crawfish boils and wine parties; our friends and family gather for New Orleans Saints games. We bury our dead in ceremony and then gather to celebrate those lives.  Several friends and relatives of friends have passed since this pandemic invaded our existence; all burials were private--only immediate family could attend.  More than anything, we in Louisiana (and I'm sure the rest of the country and the world) want the fabric of our lives to return to what we call normal. I'm sure all of us want to enjoy our lives again, but the fragile fabric of our lives will have been altered; the people who comprised part of its pattern may no longer be within the intricate needlework of our lives.  Some of us will no longer have jobs and may miss the people we once knew so intimately. Many of us will mourn those swallowed by this tidal wave of death.  COVID19, you are an assassin. Conquer you we will.