Breath of Life

I was sitting in our local Azerbaijani crêperie…and every neighborhood should have one…and just finishing my breakfast when something caught my eye. It was a word on the pepper container. Kirkland. The Seattle suburb near the headquarters of Costco which also serves as the Costco house brand. Everyone has purchased Costco mayonnaise, Costco handkerchiefs and so on. But damned if I’d ever thought I would see Kirkland branding the world leader in lethal virus competition.

Why is this important? I don’t know. Or I didn’t know at the time. Shortly after I got home, the news began flooding, information dikes breached, channels awash. I haven’t been out since. By ‘out’ I mean beyond the front door. If this seems excessive well, the whole situation seems excessive. Coronavirus has interrupted things. And perhaps things needed to be interrupted.

Here in San Francisco the information flow is both reliable and persuasive. ‘Flatten the curve’ being the idea one hears most often. The curve is the bell curve. And the goal is to slow the spread of the virus, thereby reducing demand on hospitals. This notion is widely accepted everywhere in liberal America. But, of course, liberal America isn’t everywhere in the US. For this liberal American, the notion that we are all in this together has much greater appeal than, say, ‘when am I going to die?’ A question that leads to the next, ‘how am I going to protect my stuff?’ At our worst, we hyper individualistic Americans can drown in the first person singular. Me, I, mine.

Not that mortal anxiety hasn’t plagued me recently. I don’t need to be reminded of my vulnerability. Or maybe I do. I tend to roll through this wheeled phase of my life in a fairly habitual way. So the fact that there may be a virus out to get me disrupts everything. The obvious question being well beyond ‘how long will I live’ to the more interesting ‘who knows anyway’.

Forcing the more profound question…which has less to do with death than with fear of death. And actually, fear of choking to death, more or less. This being what a bad case of coronavirus seems to do. Reminding me of the time after my shooting when my breathing was suddenly reduced. This is my most tangible fear of the illness. That the breath of life will be gradually choked off, leaving me gasping and desperate and dying. It’s the helplessness I can’t accept.

And yet it’s helplessness that we all face. Life ends for everyone, according to reliable reports. I am 73 years old. Get over it, as someone in the White House recently advised. Besides, I don’t have corona virus. Corona beer would be nice, but I don’t even have that. All I have is a beautiful day in San Francisco, a good book, and a new set of rules. Don’t go out.

Rolling down the hill to get a cappuccino, buy a quart of milk in the shop or return a library book…these small distractions keep me…well, distracted. And distracted from what if not writing? Admittedly they do help me feel part of things. I know the people who work in the neighborhood. And they know me. And we say hello, daily adding a couple of stitches to the fabric of life. I have to stop weaving for a while.

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