When I learned last Monday that the Tucson Festival of Books had been cancelled, following the pull-out of a hundred rationally (at this time) flight-phobic authors who were to have been featured guests, I was disappointed. The Artist was relieved. He was worried about my presence in those big crowds, even though the book fair is an outdoor event. That was Monday. On Friday I got word that my part-time job as a volunteer reading tutor at Willcox Elementary School had also been suspended. School is on spring break this week, but even if the students go back next week we tutors won’t be there, and I’ll miss the little kids, but given the age of our tutor pool and added vulnerabilities of some of us, I have to admit that precautions are only sensible.
Note that I don’t ask if my readers have kept abreast of developments in the coronavirus story, since there is little else on the news these days as the number of reported cases and the number of countries with cases continues to rise. Events cancelled, schools closed or closing, everyone avoiding crowds, until it becomes difficult to imagine anyone, sick or not, who will remain unaffected financially. Not everyone — not even all office workers — can work from home. Many will not be needed if their places of employment are closed. Retail and restaurant employees, bus and cab and Uber drivers, actors and musicians (Broadway dark!), and domestic service workers. For many people, not working means no income.
Suddenly we have a whole new vocabulary, and self-quarantine is a star in that list, with Americans admonished not to panic, not to hoard, but to make sure they have enough food and other supplies on hand to get through two weeks of isolation, if need be. Paper products, hand sanitizer, and soap are vanishing from store shelves.
But why do I write these things that everyone who’s not in a coma has heard hundreds of times a day by now? Young or old, working or not, there is no one in the world without a corona virus-related worry list. Will it bring us together in resolve and commonsense, or will it fuel fear of the Other? I wonder.
Although I’m more than one decade (never mind how many) older than I can quite believe, it did not occur to me immediately that I was part of a “vulnerable” group, simply by virtue of my age. Then there is what one doctor diagnosed as “cold asthma,” an affliction that had become terrible during Michigan winters but something I am able to forget (and then gratefully realize I have been forgetting) out here in the Arizona sun. Besides that, the younger and stronger, even if I were among that group, are in danger themselves — the danger of transmitting the virus to older and weaker friends, relatives, and strangers.
|Darkness moves in|
Even when neighbors gather, there are no “large crowds” in a ghost town, but people here still have their worries. Surgeries postponed, ongoing cancer treatments, auto-immune issues, necessary travel, falling stock values, lost earned income. No one is untouched.
For myself, I admit the worries were slow in coming, but they have arrived now. Will we be able to leave the ghost town on our scheduled departure date and reach Michigan again safely? What will virus statistics look like a month and a half from now? Will I be able to re-open my bookstore on schedule? Proceed with my Thursday Evening Author events? Will I have any customers — any income — at all? In time, of course, the crisis will pass, but how much time? Every independent bookstore exists on a narrow margin, hanging on, when possible at all, by its metaphorical fingernails through seasons and years of financial drought, and an artist’s earnings are similarly uncertain.
One ray of hope comes more as optimistic speculation than confident prediction, and that’s the idea that as spring proceeds and warmer weather arrives, the virus will die down. In childhood, when I begged my mother for something I desperately wanted (say, a kitten or a puppy), the parental reply I most dreaded was “We’ll see.” There was cause for joy in “Yes,” and “No” could be argued against, but the dreaded “We’ll see” left me hanging in limbo, especially when my mother added, as she usually did, “Keep pestering me about it, and the answer will be no!” Hope with no certainty: that was the torment of “We’ll see.” But “We’ll see,” I’ve learned as an adult, is the human condition.
Should worst come to worst in the high desert, should the Artist and I be compelled to remain within the confines of our rented cabin walls and the immediate outdoors surrounding, we will be able to stretch our food supply to the requisite two weeks. Maybe, however, ordering another delivery of propane would be prudent. One thing is certain: we have enough reading material to last out a quarantine period. We’ll never exhaust books-not-yet-read, and if we did, we are both happy re-readers of our favorites.
The other night, in fact, for some reason I pulled from the shelf Barbara Kingsolver’s book of essays entitled High Tide in Tucson, and re-reading those essays last night and this morning has been sheer delight. May I say, very good medicine -- something we all need right now.
What a stroke of luck. What a singular brute feat of outrageous fortune: to be born to citizenship in the Animal Kingdom.
Indeed. For all the slings and arrows life aims at us, who would be anything else than living and choose anywhere in the Universe to live other than on this brown, green, tan, black, red, yellow, blue, and beautiful earth? The worries of the present historical moment, however, are very real. If you have friends or family members working in health care in areas that the virus has reached, you know it's worse than what we hear on the news. So please, be very careful out there, friends. I won't tell you what measures you take. You already know.