COVID-19 stories,  Letters to a Young Poet,  Rainer Maria Rilke

Trapped in an “X-Files” rerun: More notes from my quarantine journal

Cindy La Ferle

“What I find fantastic is any notion that there are answers beyond the realm of science. The answers are there. You just have to know where to look.” ~Dana Scully, The X-Files 

Friday, May 1, 2020

I’m glancing out my home office window as I type this — just in time to spot a neighbor walking a large dog. The dog does its business on my lawn; the neighbor tugs on its leash and walks away without picking up the pile of poop left behind. But I’m too exhausted to pound on the window to rebuke her lack of manners and respect. 

It’s an apt metaphor for another strange and shitty week — the kind of week when it’s hard to rekindle my usual enthusiasm for daily routines. The novelty of sheltering in place is wearing thin, as is disinfecting all the doorknobs and worrying about the food supply. 

I drift aimlessly between waves of resentment and waves of resignation, with little else but an unpredictable virus to blame.

It’s the not knowing that’s making this pandemic so hard to endure.  

I don’t know if I’ve already had a mild version of The Virus, or if I’ve even been exposed to it. I don’t know if others nearby are infected and asymptomatic. Therefore, I don’t know when it will be safe to resume former activities such as eating in restaurants or visiting my grandson. As of this writing, there aren’t enough reliable tests available to provide reassuring or constructive answers, nor are there any fully approved COVID-19 vaccines or remedies. To date, nearly 65,000 Americans have died of this thing.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson

The truth is nowhere

My lack of faith and confidence in our national government isn’t helping — and even the most reliable medical advice seems to morph and change as quickly as the spread of the plague itself. Given that I’m living a real X-Files episode, I’ve adopted the show’s precept, “Trust No One.”

Every time Doug and I are out walking our own dog, I slip into paranoid mode. Peering over the top of my protective mask, I view every stranger we pass as a potential COVID-19 carrier. It’s as if each person I encounter has a loaded gun that could go off accidentally. Every breath is a concealed weapon.

It’s not my nature to feel like this. While I’m very good at entertaining myself in isolation, I’m usually not so emotionally fragile or pessimistic. Or so sad.

In my own defense, each day brings yet another email announcing the cancellation of another summer art fair, another concert series, another ball game, another highly anticipated event. And did I already mention the rising death toll? 

Stuck but not stupid

Meanwhile, I’m still astounded by the protesters — some wearing swastikas or waving Confederate flags — who claim their “rights” are violated by pandemic restrictions. News flash: This is a public health crisis, not a Civil War reenactment. I’d like to remind those rifle-toting risk-takers that the rest of us have a right to protect our health. But instead I will maintain a safe six-mile distance from them. Indefinitely. I may be paranoid, but as Pulitzer-winning columnist Leonard Pitts declared earlier this week, “I will not die of stupid.”

Yes, I realize my world is shrinking as quickly as our COVID-19 vocabulary. While I’m on that topic, I’m tired of the worn-out catchphrase, “These are unprecedented times,” which is inevitably followed by “We’re all in this together” or “This too shall pass.” I suppose it’s only natural that we’ve resorted to using cliches to explain the unexplainable.  

The return of warm spring weather is a help. And so are the old comforts of literature and philosophy. I’m thinking right now of a favorite passage from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and I hope it will provide some consolation to you as well:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” 

~Cindy La Ferle

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.

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