In a universe described by Robert Heinlein as “less than a pantheon of man’s winged angels, but quite many,” there is a life form in our midst whose status as a species has less to do with its power and prowess in the field than with what it signifies in this life. I am talking about the Coronavirus.
This fellow, a member of a tribe thousands of years old, is, by most accounts, kind, thoughtful, compassionate, cheerful, bold, even daring. He is also incredibly stubborn.
And, alas, he is not, it seems, very good at getting himself out of medical trouble. He often goes to the wrong doctor for treatment, and when he does get the right one, the bedside manner is not the clinician’s best. Sometimes, he is said to be “chirpy” and “off-hand.” And yet, there is a startlingly simple lesson here: (See Also, Bill Cosby) When it comes to corazon, calm down, temper your enthusiasm, and be willing to do what is necessary to get the job done.
This is not, of course, the first time something has been said about corazon.
In the Old Testament there is this prophecy: “And thou shalt abide with glories and honor and glory, and that thy people, the people of Israel, may be honored of all nations” (Isaiah 63:4).
We like to believe that these are moments of awe, and when we think of corazon, we often picture something great, of which we are completely unaware. Such as — cough, cough — Coco Pops? But the story of corazon — its humble beginnings, present and future — is in many ways the story of everything this blog is about.
The Coronavirus is not the first virus, and it will not be the last.
To counter fear in an increasingly chaotic world, people who practice Jewish mysticism believe in the divinity of contagion. Some of them talk about it as if it were the strength of the babushka, the potency of the flower, or even the immortality of matriarchs — all full of spite and malice but always capable of stirring some good in us.
But most of us think of the Coronavirus in the same way we think of oil and water: it is inconvenient, but there’s nothing we can do about it.
The coronavirus, in this view, is like the corona that dominates the moon when we think of a comet. There are, to be sure, things one can do in response to the Coronavirus, but nothing particularly life-saving: There are no drugs that target the virus and eradicate it, no germicidal spacesuits that can carry out DNA extraction. There are, in short, things that can be done but nothing that can save the life of a coronavirus sufferer.
Nonetheless, understanding the Coronavirus brings into focus what is important in a world where everybody in this web of cells has wings of his own. That a patient with a congealed lung is the same creature as a patient who has lost the will to live is perhaps unfair, but it is also the truth. There is nothing we can do to save the life of those corollaries. What we can do, and have done since the day Arnold Schulze flew with a corona, is simply live with the truth.
This post is cross-posted from The Notes. To see the section on coro, click here.