Notes From a Pandemic: May 2nd, 2020

by Miles Raymer

Greetings, dear friends of the present and curious citizens of the future.

Since I know a few of my readers will be eager for news, I’ll start today with a quick update on Charlie’s situation. (For background, please see last week’s journal.) I’m pleased to report that Charlie and his partner arrived in Humboldt after making the trip west from New York City on Thursday. They located a comfy house in McKinleyville where they can quarantine, and yesterday I had the pleasure of delivering their groceries. We Raymers are wishing them an uneventful couple of weeks and anticipating their safe re-entry into the local community.

Okay, let’s go to the numbers. Between this moment and my last journal one week ago:

  • The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world increased by a factor of 0.19 (19%)
  • Confirmed US cases increased by a factor of 0.21 (21%)
  • Confirmed California cases increased by a factor of 0.26 (26%)
  • Confirmed Humboldt County cases increased by a factor of 0.02 (2%)
  • Total US deaths increased by a factor of 0.24 (24%)
  • The US death rate is doubling every sixteen days
  • The US is now home to 32.95% of the world’s total confirmed cases, and 27.12% of the world’s total confirmed deaths

Remembering those in exile

For many people around the world––far too many––sheltering in place means enduring an unprecedented period of solitude. I am thankful to not be among this group, but that makes it all the more important for me to acknowledge and respect the suffering of those who are taking on significant emotional burdens for the greater good. Humans are deeply social animals, our body-minds ill-equipped to deal with prolonged social isolation. Even the most introverted long for the occasional visitor, for the direct, unmediated gaze of a loved one. And despite all our digital connections––in fact because of them––we’re reminded now of the irreplaceable delights of sharing common space.

Writers from every era have sought to capture the profound impacts of loneliness. Here are some favorite examples from my last few years of reading:

For a time you can be alone and doing fine and never give a thought to living any other way and then you meet someone and suddenly you become lonely. It stabs at you, almost like a physical pain, and you feel both deprived and angry, deprived because you wish to be with that person and angry, because their absence brings you misery. It’s a strange feeling, akin to desperation, a feeling that makes you wait by the phone even though you know that the call is an hour away. (Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites147)

He doesn’t want a relationship for propriety’s sake: he wants it because he has realized he is lonely. He is so lonely that he sometimes feels it physically, a sodden clump of dirty laundry pressing against his chest. He cannot unlearn the feeling. People make it sound so easy, as if the decision to want it is the most difficult part of the process…He wants to be touched, he wants to feel someone else’s hands on him, although the thought of that too terrifies him. (Hanya YanagiharaA Little Life305-6)

The first thing that plague brought to our town was exile. And the narrator is convinced that he can set down here, as holding good for all, the feeling he personally had and to which many of his friends confessed. It was undoubtedly the feeling of exile––that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire. Sometimes we toyed with our imagination, composing ourselves to wait for a ring at the bell announcing somebody’s return, or for the sound of a familiar footstep on the stairs; but, though we might deliberately stay at home at the hour when a traveler coming by the evening train would normally have arrived, and though we might contrive to forget for the moment that no trains were running, that game of make-believe, for obvious reasons, could not last. Always a moment came when we had to face the fact that no trains were coming in. And then we realized that the separation was destined to continue, we had no choice but to come to terms with the days ahead. In short, we returned to our prison-house, we had nothing left us but the past, and even if some were tempted to live in the future, they had speedily to abandon the idea. (Albert CamusThe Plague, 67)

Casy! He talked a lot. Used ta bother me. But now I been thinkin’ what he said, an’ I can remember––all of it. Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an’ he foun’ he didn’ have no soul that was his’n. Says he foun’ he jus’ got a little piece of a great big soul. Says wilderness ain’t no good, ’cause his little piece of a soul wasn’t no good ‘less it was with the rest, an’ was whole. Funny now I remember. Didn’ think I was even listenin’. But I know now a fella ain’t no good alone. (John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath418)

For the moment, humanity’s little soul-pieces are scattered and separated by necessary borders, physical and otherwise. In my life, the person for whom this is most salient is my sister, Michaela, who lives alone in an apartment in Eureka. Michaela values her privacy and thought at first that sheltering in place would be to her liking. As the weeks passed, however, she has become both more lonely and also more accustomed to being alone for long periods of time. Fortunately, she has two dogs to keep her company, Faith and Llewellyn:

Michaela and Dogs

My close friend Jacey is in a similar position. She and Michaela have admirably committed themselves to community safety during this strenuous time.

We should all be sure to reach out to those in our lives who live alone and provide them with companionship and support however we can.

As downward cast my eyes float in the stream,
This quailing catastrophic line of rhyme,
Though endless our confinement now may seem,
The remedy for all such things is time.
And outward throw my thoughts of joy and love,
Resounding in the forest of our strife,
Remembering there is no God above,
Just miracles and wonders of this life.
This active mode of stasis harbors all,
When viral wants toy blindly with our hive,
Though silent now I know you hear my call,
A howl of the downtrodden yet alive.

For though illumination fails each night,
In dark we’ll rediscover common light.

Until next time, be well, and good luck.

Global: 3,392,771 confirmed cases, 241,193 deaths

United States: 1,117,979 confirmed cases, 65,416 deaths

California: 52,296 confirmed cases, 2,137 deaths

Humboldt County: 54 confirmed cases, 0 deaths