A number of people on my various social media platforms have been sharing the story that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have warned us that a second wave of coronavirus infections might come later in the year, and that it might be even worse than the current one. They say that a second wave of COVID-19 cases might coincide with the annual flu season, and that, together, these two might join up to overwhelm the health care system the way Godzilla and Rodan joined up to overwhelm Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.
I understand that the intent of this warning is to help us be better prepared for this possibility. I understand that it is offered in the spirit of kindness and good will for the benefit of all.
Thank you, WHO and CDC, for the warning.
But, then again, a lot of things might happen. It would be great if I could prepare for all the bad things that might happen. I know some “preppers” — people who devote their lives to preparing for potential disasters. They stockpile food and weapons in their basements. They learn survival skills. They go for extended treks into the woods in the dead of winter clothed only in a t-shirt and shorts and armed only with a rusty pocketknife to test their abilities. Or sometimes they just hide in their basements watching Netflix and eating eight year old cans of beans.
I’m not a prepper. When the apocalypse comes I’ll be one of the first that gets killed. I have no survival skills. I’m middle-aged and physically unimposing. I have nothing to offer humanity that it really needs, so there’s no reason to waste precious resources on the likes of me if things become scarce.
Therefore, I will do the reasonable thing in response to the warnings that the WHO and CDC have given us the way I respond to all warnings of disasters that might befall humanity. I will lock myself in the closet and hide under a big pile of clothes.
Or maybe I won’t.
Because locking myself in the closet and hiding under a big pile of clothes is not how I want to live. I’d rather face the calamity head on and die trying to overcome it than retreat into something that can’t protect me from the inevitable anyway.
A relative of Zen Master Ryokan asked, “Is there no way to avoid calamities?”
Ryokan’s response was, “When you are met with a calamity, meet it completely. That is the wondrous Dharma of avoiding calamities.”
The question of what to do in the face of my inevitable doom has bugged me ever since I was old enough to think for myself. When I was a teenager I was told about the Huntington’s Disease that had killed my grandmother, was killing two of my aunts, and would eventually kill my mother. I was told that I had a 50% chance of developing this disease myself once I became a young adult. For those of you unfamiliar with Huntington’s Disease, it is often described as having Parkinson’s Disease, ALS (Lou Gerig’s Disease), and Alzheimer’s all at the same time.
Lots of people gave me the same kinds of warnings about Huntington’s Disease that the CDC and WHO are giving to the whole world right now. They told me I’d better be prepared! They told me I should face the facts!
But what were the facts? I read up on the disease and became pretty well versed in what science had to tell me about its history, its typical progression, the specific damage the disease wrought upon the muscles and nervous system, and so on and on. I became quite an expert for a while. That was long ago, so please don’t ask me any questions. I’ve forgotten most of what I read back then.
But one thing I did not forget was what I noticed, while I was reading all that stuff. It told me nothing of real value.
What was I supposed to do with this information about one of the many possible ways I might die? Like seriously? Buy life insurance? Take up skydiving? Make sure I go to Hawaii at least once before the disease strikes (or doesn’t strike)?
I honestly spent a lot of time on these questions. But they didn’t lead me anywhere.
But the one useful thing I did in response to the threat I faced was take up the study and practice of Zen.
This study and practice gave me insight into something super obvious that I had somehow missed.
I was not living in some potentially disastrous future. I was living now. I am living now.
If I gave up my life right now in order to prepare for a disaster that may or may not occur in the future, I would literally be giving up everything. Because the only real moment is this one.
I respect the CDC and the WHO. I really do. I have some questions about certain actions both organizations have taken recently. But the bottom line is I respect that they are experts in their fields. I respect that some of the members of those organizations know a hell of a lot more about biology and medicine than I ever will, no matter how many YouTube videos I watch.
But they are not me. They do not live my life.
These days I am doing all of the responsible things. I’ve barely been out of the apartment I’m living in for the past two months. When I do go out for my nightly walk, I avoid encountering other human beings. I wear a mask in the grocery store — which I visit as infrequently as possible. I wash my hands like a doctor about to perform surgery at least fifteen times a day (no exaggeration).
I know that there’s always a chance I am one of the many asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 and I take my responsibility not to spread it to others seriously. I know that people love and care about me and that they would make great sacrifices if I ever got sick, so I take care not to expose myself to situations where I might get the disease. Besides, I hate being sick and I have no desire to die any earlier than is absolutely necessary.
Yet I am also concerned about other things. I hope we are collectively paying attention to more than just this viral pandemic — as serious as it is.
I hope we are not sacrificing our real lives here and now for a disaster that may very well happen in the future. Or may very well not happen at all.
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