Reminders of Mortality

I found out I have COVID today at one of the worst possible moments: in my elderly parents’ condominium, where I had traveled from out of town to help them with their own health crisis. Great. Not only did I physically feel like shit, I had just exposed them to the virus, along with their wonderful home health aide, my two adult sons, and my brother, all of whom were on the spot to assist my mom and dad.

In the secret irrational place in the mind where we are convinced of our own immortality, I had just about talked myself into believing I would never get the pandemic disease. After all, I’ve been “good” since the start of this thing. I masked up immediately and have kept on wearing KN95 masks in all indoor public spaces, even as the mandates fall apart. I got myself, my wife, and the younger two of my sons who live with me vaccinated and then boosted as soon as it was possible. I lost my job at the start of the pandemic, and when I quickly found a new one doing freelance journalism, I was careful to ensure I wouldn’t have to leave my home and expose myself to public transit and a shared office to do it. Millions of people, of course, have no such options when it comes to earning a living during this time of plague.

As you already know if you understand anything about the way infectious disease works, the coronavirus doesn’t care how “good” you’ve been. Yes, the steps I have taken to reduce and mitigate my risks have protected me and my family until now, but the moment there was a chink in my armor, it slipped through. For now, I have the “mild, coldlike symptoms” form of COVID, and the vaccination and booster shot I have received make it likely I’ll get through it with no worse symptoms than tiredness, chills, and mild annoyance and boredom as I isolate at home. Which is, again, a choice millions of people do not have. Though I do have to worry about how great my chances might be of developing “long COVID,” which scares the living daylights out of me, especially the part about “brain fog.” Given my career, personality, and interests, brain damage of that kind would almost be worse than dying and getting it over with.

This all came about just four days after I received a panicked, early-morning phone call from my mother, who was wrongly convinced my father was dying. Even with the home health aides, she was cracking under the strain of caregiving. My oldest son drove ten hours, halfway across the country, to accompany me and his younger brother the following day to help my parents. I hadn’t seen him in a very long time, and I was instantly impressed when he walked in the door that he had become a very capable, caring, self-confident adult. Did that transformation come at the “price” of my parents’ decline? In some metaphysical sense, yes. And all this family drama was playing out in a week that saw the Russian war on Ukraine widen, while the signs that America is in irreversible and probably terminal decline continue to multiply and spread, with a complete and violent farce-fascist takeover increasingly likely even before 2024. Nations, like individuals, are mortal. And that makes everything we do, individually and collectively, infinitely meaningful.

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