“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.” –Freddie Mercury
This is not the Apocalypse. This is not the end of all things. This is just a taste of one part of an apocalypse. The most familiar Apocalypse is found in the last book of every Bible, The Revelation of St. John. It is worth reading, in fact you are actually promised a blessing for reading it, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3) If, after 2000 years, all that horrible stuff comes true, a “blessing” is the least he could offer. The coronavirus pandemic is a mild equivalent to just one of several plagues and pestilence predicted in Revelation. Along with pestilence comes famine, and the human response, of course, is war. Then, as everyone over 40 learned in Sunday school, the rise of a political leader who seems to have all the answers – The Antichrist.
We are now in the ninth week since the Center for Disease Control activated its Emergency Operations Center to better provide ongoing support to the COVID-19 response which began in Wuhan, China. The pandemic is now worldwide. Non-essential businesses are closing and the economic effects are only in the prediction stage.
We can now only imagine how we will survive without income. We will learn what life will be like without sports, nightlife, live music, restaurants, coffee shops, birthday parties, art galleries, and all manner of luxuries. We will all come to terms with the meaning of the word “essential.” We always start with food, shelter, and clothing, and quickly add health care, utilities, and transportation. We will have to rely on government and media outlets in ways we aren’t used to. This will change us.
The quarantine is already changing us. I am wondering if all those extreme habits of ascetic frugality my Depression-raised parents talked about will come back into vogue? Mixing cheap lard with butter to double it, saving used tea bags, making soup out of potato peels and wiener water, putting a brick in the toilet tank to conserve water, sewing patches on patches, darning socks with yarn from a sock that was too far gone, powdered milk, and gruel. I lived with my wife’s grandparents in the Summer of 1978, they practiced all these frugal ways and I hated them all, except one.
That summer for entertainment we played cards, they liked Pinochle and they taught me the 3 handed version. Once I was up to speed Grandma said we would now play a real game for “Noses”. “What is ‘noses’ ?” I asked. “You’ll see, just play smart and don’t lose” she said. We played the game and Grandpa lost and owed Grandma 5 points. She took 5 cards in a neat tight stack in one hand, leaned over the table and sliced those cards right across the tip of Grandpas nose! It immediately bled all over the table and Grandpa went nuts screaming at her. But Grandma screamed back louder, “You knew we were playing for noses, goddammit! just take it like a man!”
Frugality is born of scarcity, and scarcity can quickly turn to violence. Desperate people do desperate things, and scarcity is the breeding ground for violence. Science, in all it’s newly acquired glory, cannot help us when it comes to the hidden darkness in the hearts of men, or those demons we can no longer beat back, or when otherwise good people resort to violence. Violence has marked Mankind throughout our existence. Maybe the pandemic will pass us long before the violence begins. Maybe love and kindness will prevent it. But, if it does turn to violence we will need answers. Perhaps they can be found in that old Book of Revelation, a heartwarming tale that ends with a Savior on a White Horsie and a brand new Universe. And by all means read it out loud and get that blessing, you’ll need it.