A grand adventure

According to the New York Times coronavirus map and case count this morning, South Dakota has the second fewest diagnosed cases of the virus in the US, when comparing state to state. Wyoming, has three fewer cases than South Dakota, and North Dakota leads South Dakota by eight cases at the moment. Our three states are the only ones with fewer than 100 cases. This unique status likely will not be the same a week from now and there are several possible reasons for the statistic. Certainly being a state with lots of rural areas that is distant from both coasts of the country and has less convenient airline access are among the factors. It is also possible that delays in testing have resulted in a statistical anomaly. It may just be the case that we are behind the rest of the country and the number of cases here will peak after peaks have been reached in other states. Finally, having relatively low population means that the total number of people infected will be lower than places with more people.

The statistics on the spread of the disease, however, are doing little to calm the fears of people. Within the last week I’ve spoken to several people by telephone or teleconference who are very frightened. I’ve witnessed tears and heard panic in the voices of people who seem to me to be very safe.

Without wanting to play down the tragedy of any person’s death, and being fully aware of the grief that comes to family members, I also want to point out that this is not quite the end of the world. People in the very highest risk categories, those with pulmonary disease or severe coronary artery disease, still have a better than 50% chance of surviving if they contract Covid-19. Those odds are way better than a large number of other diseases. I have a friend who has stage IV pancreatic cancer. About the only way that disease won’t be the cause of his death is if he is the victim of an accident.

The challenge for all of us, living under all of the changes to society that are coming from this pandemic, is balancing the information we have and the range of decisions we are able to make with the needs of our human spirits.

The fears comes from the randomness of the spread of the disease. There are many factors that are simply beyond our control. A virus is an incredibly tiny lifeform, much smaller than a single human cell. We can’t see a virus without the aid of a powerful microscope. We know that the virus is spread through droplets, which we can sometimes see. Add to that the fact that a person can be infected without having any symptoms and can therefore spread the disease to others without knowing it. There is a certain randomness about the spread of the virus that makes us all feel vulnerable.

I think that the reason we are obsessing with cleaning surfaces is that it is something we can do. We feel like we are losing control and washing and disinfecting doorknobs and tabletops feels like we are taking positive action. The reality is that the virus is dependent upon the bodies of mammals and doesn’t survive long on surfaces. If it is in a drop of water, the water evaporates and the virus dies. The way in which the disease spreads is from person to person. And that is why keeping distance between people slows the spread of the virus.

We are social animals. We don’t thrive when separated from others. Babies need the touch of their parents. Children need to be held and reassured. In fact we all do, and some of the tearful emotions I have witnessed may be coming not just from fear, but also from a lack of human contact.

It is a balancing act.

Jesus worked hard to calm the fears of those who followed him. In both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke he says, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:27, Luke 12:25) Of course, being told not to worry and being told that worrying is futile doesn’t stop us from worrying.

Here is what we can say with a fairly high degree of certainty. More people are going to contract the virus. People we know are going to become infected. Our risk of becoming infected ourselves goes up with the passage of time and the spread of the disease. Some of us may not even know we are sick. Others may feel bad for a while and the discomfort may last as long as two or three weeks. A few will need hospitalization. The threat of this pandemic is real.

But with an even higher degree of certainty, I can say that we all will someday die. None of us is immortal. One of the gifts of this virus may be that it reminds us of a truth that we have become very practiced at ignoring.

There is no life without risk. There are other random events that can be life threatening. As terrible as this disease is, any individual has a higher risk of slipping and falling in the bathtub than they do of contracting coronavirus. That hasn’t stopped us from taking baths. I’ve quoted Bad Luhmann in my journal before: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” We have to be able to set aside our fears in order to become fully alive.

There is little new information in my journal today. I’m saying things that I’ve already said and that my readers already know. So I will end by saying that I am not overwhelmed with fear. I am not sad about the state of my life. I am not willing to become a recluse and avoid other people. Neale Donald Wisch wrote, “adventure begins where your comfort zone ends.”

We find ourselves in another of life’s grand adventures.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!