I’m Sick of This. Fortunately.

Dear Will:

I am so sick of this.

We are entering Week Whatever of quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’ve had enough. Every day looks like the one before it: Get up. Walk the dog. Stare at a computer screen for nine or ten hours. Scrounge up some dinner. Watch something. Read something. Go to bed. Some nights we order take-out. Woo hoo.

What I wouldn’t give for a hot meal prepared by a real chef, eaten on an actual plate in a corner booth, maybe with some live music thrown in. I want to go to the theater, like we used to. Maybe catch a movie. Go to a game. It’s gotten so bad that the highlight of the week has become the weekly trip to the grocery store. It’s just about the only reason I have to get in my car. But to do that I have to strap on a mask and snap on some rubber gloves. I look like a scrawnier and somewhat less malevolent version of that bad guy in The Dark Knight Rises.

I play along, but never with enthusiasm. Only learning more about this strain of the coronavirus has kept me from defying local restrictions in protest. Even though I have multiple relatives who are medical professionals, I’m not dumb enough to think that their training somehow suggests that I have a natural instinct for these things, so I’ve turned to those with unique expertise to help me understand how this virus spreads or how best to mitigate its impact on society. In the early days of this crisis, this simulation helped me grasp the unambiguous power of social distancing. And this post from Dr. Erin Bromage, an immunologist from UMass Dartmouth, gave me much better insight into how COVID-19 spreads from person to person.

In my eagerness to get back to the life I prefer, I found one of Dr. Bromage’s examples particularly sobering. He describes an actual case in which an asymptomatic person (someone not too different from me, I suppose) had dinner with nine friends at a restaurant. Unfortunately, that person was an unwitting carrier of the coronavirus. Within a week, roughly half of the people at the infected person’s table had become sick, along with five others at adjacent tables. As I read that, I thought: “Wow. I wouldn’t want to be that guy.”

I am thrilled by recent announcements that some of the restrictions where I live are beginning to loosen. Even so, I can see why gathering with a couple of hundred friends at church for hugs and hymns might still be one of the worst ideas around. But gathering with a dozen or so in someone’s backyard might be just the thing I need right now to satisfy my growing desire for fellowship and collective worship. By all means, let’s take some baby steps. But let’s make sure they’re in the right direction.

Something my brother-in-law shared with me a few weeks ago continues to reverberate in my quarantined brain. That he’s a doctor merely adds gravitas to an already persuasive idea. “Don’t change your behavior to avoid getting sick,” he told me. “Assume that you’re already sick, and change your behavior to avoid infecting others.” When I start to feel like I’ve had about as much mask-wearing as I can take, his words compel me to put one on anyway.

This idea—that “I’m not doing this for myself; I’m doing it for others”—is at the heart of the aggressive precautions advocated by epidemiologists. It’s not a question of “rights” but of what’s right. As a Christian, I have always believed that at the heart of Jesus’s teachings is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you; or in scriptural language, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It is a universal ideal, as Jewish and Buddhist and Hindu and Islamic as it is Christian. It is an expression of our best selves, woven into the very fabric of civil society. Do I like working from home? Not really. Do I enjoy wearing rubber gloves at Albertsons? No way. But am I willing to do it? For you? Absolutely. And I’m inexpressibly grateful to all of those taking similar precautions to keep me and my family from coming down with COVID-19.

I guess what I’m saying is that, sure, I’m sick of this. But even more, I’m grateful not to be sick of that.

PW