We live in a beautiful ecosystem and a dangerous one.
We don’t often think of the earth as a dangerous place. The sun shines, rain comes down. Birds fly through the air. But our planet is alive with all kinds of species, and some of them threaten us: Poisonous reptiles, noxious plants, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.
We are now confronting one of those risks. The tiny coronavirus that is spreading disruption, sickness and death around the world. We, in the first world, are so far removed from a large swath of human experience in the third world—days spent growing their own food and fighting the whim of nature, drought and downpour, the flimsy barriers between inside a shelter and the outside, where chickens and goats wander onto their dirt floors.
It’s like we live in a high rise, far above traffic and the grit of the street. Then the building has to be evacuated, and we must join everybody else on the ground. Our sophisticated systems aren’t much of a shield against a potentially deadly bug that spreads quickly. Technology, rapid transportation networks, even our “best in the world” medical professionals don’t offer protection. We’re just a community of human beings against a virus, whether we live in a far-flung village or downtown Manhattan.
My husband, a physician who was chief of infectious disease for a large medical network, says there are things we can do to mitigate our chances of getting coronavirus. Wash our hands often, don’t touch our faces when we’re out among other people, keep a hand sanitizer handy. Avoid crowds and the jacuzzi, sauna and group classes at our local gyms. If we feel sick, no matter the cause, stay home. Older people are most vulnerable to this virus. So, people over 70 like I am, even those of us in good health, should think twice about flying, taking mass transportation and dining out in close quarters.
Some of us have brushed off the seriousness of a pandemic or have blamed the frenzied public response on politics. One talk show host several nights ago had a graphic behind her that read “pan-DEM-ic”, indicating that Democrats encouraged the disease and the accompanying panic around the country. My advice to her would be to concentrate more on the science of the virus and less on her ratings.
There is no doubt that COVID19 is causing disruptions. It’s not what we expect from our daily lives in the 21st century. I went to the grocery store yesterday morning and checkout lines were unbelievably long, shelves normally full of soup, bread or eggs were empty. My friends’ grandkids are home from school, professional sports have been cancelled, theatres and museums are closing. These are all a reminder that despite civilization’s advancements, we share our home with many other living things. Earth in all its rawness and glory is our habitat. We must learn to live in it, take care of it and each other.