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Pandemic Diaries 11

Baton Rouge delivery truck for Covey Rise Farms: fresh veg right to the neighborhood

Photo above is my Pandemic Diary from today. Covey Rise Farms, local farmers from a nearby parish, scheduled a visit to my part of the city today, to deliver sacks of what’s fresh on their farm this week. I was worried about what was going to happen to farmers at the Baton Rouge farmers’ market, given that nobody can go to it. Covey Rise is bringing the farmers’ market to the people. You can’t shop, but you can pay $30 and get the bag of assorted fresh vegetables. They came to a nearby neighborhood from one to three pm today. I drove over and bought one of the sacks, which had all kinds of greens, carrots, onions, parsley, sweet potatoes, and other things. They’ll be back next Thursday, and so will I.

This is an old style of farm-to-table commerce called “CSA” (Covey Rise explains its CSA here). Readers of Crunchy Cons will remember me talking about discovering the CSA in my Brooklyn neighborhood back in 2002. I didn’t know people still did CSAs, but I’m glad to know that there’s one available in my neighborhood. My wife was just in the kitchen washing the greens. The spicy smell of fresh arugula fills the kitchen now, and makes it smell like springtime.

From Wichita, Kansas, Russell Arben Fox writes:

This has been a week of triage for our city. The county commission finally submitted to medical opinion (and political pressure) regarding the need to order many businesses and places of public gathering to close for the sake of minimizing the potential spread of the coronavirus. Now the question becomes the classic one which arises in every emergency, every instance of limited resources: what can be sustained, what can be changed, and what can’t be saved? Like many people in Wichita, toward the end of last week I made time to check in on places of business I was most worried about surviving the loss of commerce which this order–and, let’s be honest, the even stricter ones likely to follow it–is going to entail. But what I worry about the most isn’t the loss of the diverse food my favorite restaurants provided, but rather the spaces they created. And no spaces are more important that Wichita’s bookstores.

Watermark Books & Cafe (full disclosure: my wife worked there for over eight years) has had to cancel all its book clubs, reading groups, and story times. Sarah Bagby and her management staff have had to let their booksellers go, and close their doors, which has been a terrible loss for their College Hill neighborhood–to say nothing of the innumerable elementary and middle schools which Watermark regularly brought authors out to–which the store has become so entwined with over the years. Eighth Day Books, the tiny linchpin of a sprawling spiritual community (the Eighth Day Institute, of which I am a member) that connects together churches and faith groups throughout the whole region, is focusing on online and phone orders, as EDI’s regular gatherings, like the Hall of Men, have had to be suspended, and access to the store limited, with the small, devoted staff of Eighth Day hunkering down to weather the storm. And Prairie Dog Comics, home of some of the best RPG game nights anywhere in the state (and where I buy my daughters copies of Ms. Marvel), has had to pack up its tables and end its evenings of gaming, restricting itself to fulfilling phone and online orders, and only allowing browsers into the store on a strict reservation basis. All of this, and more, doesn’t just threaten businesses–it threatens a by-product of commerce which is far more important that the commercial transactions themselves: namely, people getting together and sharing their literary passions, their spiritual insights, their geeky delights, with those in the same space.

I know we’re lucky in some ways. A New York Times columnist, when mourning the people of NYC being forced to isolate themselves, quoted a psychologist talking about how much easier people in cities adjacent to rural spaces may have it in comparison to folks in really big cities, where coronavirus outbreaks have been most severe. The loss of socially enriching spaces will be felt differently “if you’re able to stroll around your farm and pick the produce you’ve been growing,” as opposed to those who are “living in a one-bedroom apartment with three roommates” whom they have to nonetheless keep separated from. Since it’s still not hard for me to drive a half-hour to nearby farms to get fresh produce and meat, there are ways in which the loss of these essential spaces isn’t weighing down our family too much yet. At the same time, a city like ours, perhaps exactly because common places of complex interaction and community feeling are spread far apart and are relatively few in number (not to mention too easily bought out and torn down by local financial players), when a crisis comes it is that much easier to retreat to our private locales, set aside public concerns, and forget about the ways in which a city could be made more resilient in the face of threats to its urban existence. Perhaps, though, surviving this pandemic will bring about a change.

First we have to survive it, though, and that means helping our essential places survive, even if–maybe especially if–they aren’t considered “essential” in the eyes of the government. Talking with Warren Farha, the owner of Eighth Day Books, this week, he expressed his determination to find a way through this challenge, and get to the other side. People–maybe not all the people, all the time, but enough of them, often enough–want and need to come into a place they know, among people they know, looking for the books and art and insight they know they will love, if they can only find it. “You can’t replace all that with online shopping,” Warren said to me; “the door has got to be open so that people can come in and be part of something larger than themselves.” Maybe they’re not going to come in for a time, he admits–but that just means the desire will be all the greater afterwards, or so he heops. I think our job, as we sort out our next steps in this unprecedented week we’ve experienced, is therefore to find ways to triage our limited time and dollars, and to deliver them in whatever ways we can to help keep these wonderful places alive, until the community connections they enable are able to fully bless our city once again. I’ve no simple solution as to how any particular Wichitan can or should do that–but I’m pretty we should all think about how.

From Boston, an update from an earlier diarist who has terminal cancer, and was facing the prospect of dying unattended by family in the hospital because of coronavirus. When last we heard from him, he was trying to get into a hospice. He writes today:

Hello Rod, hope all is well with you and your family. I just wanted to update my status and hope for some more prayers

Transfer to hospice took longer than expected as the state/hospital/hospice/someone wanted two negative tests for corona before discharge. Then it was one. We did one; 28 hours, negative! But then they did say they would need that second. We did two; 24 hours later, negative and time to go.

A huge irony happened, the day of my discharge. It was my 37th birthday. So, there I was, in the back of an ambulance, clutching my hospice decision paperwork, having just signed them papers as the birthday boy, as we drove through Boston at 6-7pm with no traffic.

Terrified, here I am. Thanks for listening. And for any prayers you can spare.

Please, everybody, pray for D. On his 37th birthday, headed to hospice to prepare to die.

From Jefferson County, Washington:

We live in Seattle, but we decided almost two weeks ago to make the two hour trip (including ferry) to our little summer cottage in the woods on Puget Sound. Since then we have only seen other people warily avoiding each other during our one grocery trip and on the local trails in the state and national parks. Our church has gone to Zoom online for the duration, and my wife’s school district has also moved online. I have a small retirement business in Seattle that is listed in the “essential” classification. The young staff are struggling to keep it open for now.

I’m deeply grateful to God that we are able to be here. So are my daughters in Seattle, who fear for their “elderly” dad and want us to stay isolated. Here in rural Jefferson County there have only been seven cases so far, in contrast with the 1,400 confirmed in King (Seattle’s) County. The nearest sizable town, Port Townsend, is a postcard Victorian port heavily dependent on tourism, which is of course shut down at the moment. On the brighter side, this is still the off-season, and these businesses are structured to survive the slower times. I think everyone hopes to hang on until restrictions can be eased in time for some vestige of the tourist season.

We watch woodpeckers and hummingbirds at our feeders, read, cook, bake, work a little, split firewood, scan the water for wildlife, walk, cycle…there’s plenty to do and no boredom. The lockdown will eventually end, it’s just a question of how and when. We thank God for every day and ask for another one, if it be His will.

From the Northeast:

Virtual communities are becoming more and more important, without question.

I’m Episcopalian, and I’ve been a member of a number of churches over the years, since I lived in a number of dioceses. I’m on the electronic mailing list for most of the parishes I was a member of, and this has become especially important in the midst of this pandemic.

Prior to this, the newsletters were about updating the parishioners on the latest happenings. But the pandemic has shifted things. I’m finding a richness of resources for worship. The bishops in the dioceses have done a great job at advising the parishes, and a good number of them have virtual services of some type. They were doing this even before a state of emergency was declared in my city and state. So I have all kinds of services I can access, including those at National Cathedral in DC.

I always do Morning Prayer from the Daily Prayers for Individuals and Families section of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I’m thinking of adding Evening Prayer. An Episcopal priest I follow on Twitter has explained how he is using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for an Evening Prayer service. It’s one I like. I remembered the Anglican Rosary I bought some years ago, and dug it out the other day. I’ll aim to incorporate that as well.

I always went to Sunday services, and I always went to the gym several times per week. But my gym is closed and that is a dramatic turn. So I bought some home exercise equipment. My gym is suspending membership payments, and that bothers me. The gym is staffed by young people I’d see all the time. They are trying to make ends meet the best I can. Some are in school. I have no problem with paying my dues for the duration, if it means they will get paid. I’m willing to make the sacrifice.

I was planning to get my hair done, but with the salons closed, and nowhere to go anyway (smile), I can live without going.

So this is a weird place for me, I used to go out just about every day, at least six times per week: gym, shopping, meetings with friends, appointments. So I’m now going out at most two days per week, and only for necessities.

And yet, being at home isn’t a problem. I’m a writer, and so I was at home alot anyway, notwithstanding the Covid-19 social distancing. Plus, I was always cooking and baking anyway. I hardly ever bought us takeout, and so that’s not an issue now. If anything, I stopped buying take out and eating out prior to this.

From southern California:

I have not been sleeping well. Our son has been running a fever—typical baby stuff, I am sure—but has been wailing for his [physician] mother, who has been sequestered for the past few days working. Yesterday, she took the day off (she is suffering the wages of this today, when she awoke to several hundred emails). She brought him to the local hospital, where his normal pediatrician sees patients, and where they are setting up a triage center in the parking lot. I went to the local grocery, which I was surprised to find empty of people and relatively well provisioned with food. And it was not only the vegan stuff on the shelves, which even here seems to be a food of last resort. I got strawberries, which my son loves.

I was thinking about the Reno piece. I have read First Things for many years and have found his writing to be penetrating. Now it seems to me that the moral law of large numbers—which holds that in sufficiently large numbers, people are not people anymore—has already taken over our reasoning, or at least that of some of us. Reno’s idea of virtue is really virtue’s foil, and he is not at all describing the difference between dying and killing: he is describing two kinds of killing. What is virtuous about letting the sick and weak die, and then burying them in mass graves, or incinerating them collectively (corpses remain infectious after all). This is what is going on in Italy, China, and Iran, and it is ugly. I would ask him what is dignified or courageous about this, or how it advances anything beautiful. I don’t understand how what he—and many others I see—proposes is different from mass euthanasia. Worse, maybe: the descriptions of what this disease feels like reminds me of nothing so much as the descriptions of victims of gas attacks in the First World War.

Consider:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

—“Dulce et decorum est” by Wilfred Owen, who was killed on November 4 1918 on the Western Front.

And it hasn’t even been two weeks!

I hope things feel less grim in Louisiana.

From New York City:

Thank you for your pandemic diaries. I find the different voices encouraging and comforting. We are all in this together.

I am a 67 year old man living in Manhattan. For 13 years I have been living with cancer. Initially, doctors gave me little hope, but with the intervention of a life saving clinical trial I am still here. Not well, but well enough. 2 weeks ago, I underwent another of the monthly treatments I have been undergoing for over 10 years.

So I fit the profile of someone at high risk for contracting the disease and experiencing its more frightening complications.

Making matters worse, on February 1st – I began a 3-week cruise around Australia and New Zealand.

Upon arriving home I became ill with chills, fever, muscle aches, sore throat, etc. I immediately saw my doctor and was tested for the standard viruses, all negative. He could not test for Covid-19.

I self quarantined and after a week my symptoms improved. After another week they were mostly gone. This week I contacted my doctor about being tested. He said it is not possible as I am no longer symptomatic. He believes I had an early, mild case of the virus, but without an antibody test it is impossible to confirm.

I hope my story helps those isolated and scared. I fall into one of the worst categories for the disease and seemingly have come out fine. Of course, without a Covid-19 or antibody test it is impossible to know if I was actually infected.

But it is likely. As it is likely many of your readers are/will become infected. Most will experience varying degrees of illness, but the vast majority will recover. Even those at highest risk.

I don’t wish to downplay the danger of this virus, but instead provide perspective.

I hope my experience helps.

From Milwaukee, Uncle Chuckie risks his reputation as the Arch Fiend, and instructs the Cosimanian Orthodox to put on their psionics helmets and travel to hospitals to offer comfort to those suffering from Covid 19. Uncle Chuckie as an agent of mercy? He will never live this down! The instruction begins around the four-minute mark:

From Tulsa, Oklahoma:

Hi from Tulsa, Oklahoma, our new home of five months after 25 years in Southern California. We moved here along with my husband’s parents (also from Socal) because huz is an only child and his folks, in their mid-70s, were really starting to slow down. We needed to live close by, but they couldn’t afford to move near us and we couldn’t afford to move near them. Since we both have extended family out here and my job is remote-able—plus you can get a lot more house for the money!—we all packed up and moved into two houses a few minutes apart.

My in-laws are old-time Pentecostals of the “claim the blood of Jesus and go about your business” tribe. They did so, in spite of our respectful then increasingly insistent warnings. Between bad theology and Fox News, both are now in the hospital.

My father-in-law is doing okay, thus far needing only supplemental oxygen and steroid breathing treatments, but in the wee hours of last night my husband had to give verbal consent to a DNR order for my mother-in-law. She has been in ICU on a ventilator since Saturday, and now everything is shutting down. We are waiting on a call this morning so that my husband can gown up and sit with her as she passes. He has not yet told his father.

We have been self-quarantined since a week ago Monday, when FIL was here to help huz install a new water heater. Our seven-year-old has asthma and we’ve been doing daily breathing treatments to keep his airways nice and clear—but thus far, none of us has symptoms (thanks be to God). We have a wonderful church community that is giving us great support, spiritual and otherwise (praying the morning office together on Zoom is a deep consolation). Two other friends dropped off grocery items on the front stoop yesterday.

We are at once blessed and heartbroken.

Five months ago, they all moved to Tulsa to live together. And now this. These are days.

UPDATE: From St. Louis, Missouri:

In Saint Louis, the full fury is not yet upon us. My wife works at a large teaching hospital, which is eerily quiet as they have cleared out inpatients, canceled elective surgeries, and otherwise tried to prepare for what’s coming. Specialists, who haven’t walked a ward in years, have been polled to determine what their general skills are and how they can be deployed in the coming emergency. The hospital has circulated an online training course to ‘refresh’ emergency room skills. The university is collecting PPE from research labs to donate to the hospital. Everyone is just waiting, waiting…it’s the silent moment between the lightning and the thunder.

Our case numbers put us about 12 days behind New York. We have have shut down the city earlier here. Saint Louis is rightfully proud of its strong public health actions in 1918 and this has been a rallying cry to succeed again. I pray that we do.

At home, I’m teleworking and parenting my daughter whose school is closed. I am thankful for this time with her. While I am not in a high-risk age group, I have a medical condition that puts me at higher risk, and am trying to be cautious. I’m angry at those whose heads are in the sand, who are unwilling to do their part by staying home. The ones for whom my wife puts herself on the line each day. I admire her more than ever.

The little moments with my daughter seem brighter now – playing in the backyard, gardening, baking cookies, reading. Welcoming my wife home each evening (after she disinfects). Grateful for each day of my family’s health. We are reasonably prepared and we have been extraordinarily privileged. Perhaps we’ll be wise enough, when this is over, to remember what is important. And to give thanks. Memento mori.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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