When Covid-19 knocked at the door

Six months or so ago San Miguel went into lockdown, and since then we’ve been living in varying degrees of isolation, along with a relentless stream of news reports and opinions from both sides of the border. And yet, the still-unfolding catastrophe had remained one step removed from my experience: I didn’t know any COVID-19 victims personally.

That changed late Monday, when I received an email with news that last week Mario, a friend of mine of more than 20 years, who lived in California with his husband, had died, a victim of the pandemic.

Shock understates my reaction. Though he was in his late seventies, Mario was a Mormon for most of his life, and didn’t drink, smoke and certainly was not obese. He lived a comfortable life in an upscale area north of San Francisco, helping run a business owned by his husband. Why him? Who knows? Was he careless or just unlucky?

I forwarded the email about Mario’s passing to Jim, a mutual friend in Chicago, who in turn told me he personally knew five people who had died, and another one who is in an ICU. All close friends, not friends-of-a-friend, or distant acquaintances. 

Jim’s concluding thought: “It is real.”

I shouldn’t have been shocked by the news. The escalating number of Americans killed by the virus will soon reach 200,000, with millions more infected. About 65,000 people also have died in Mexico, out of 600,000 infections recorded. The numbers keep increasing, so why should I have been spared the loss of a close friend or relative? 

Since the pandemic began, though, a series of COVID-19-related drills—the taking of temperatures, spraying hands with anti-bacterial gels, wearing facial masks whenever we leave the ranch, and checking the latest death figures for San Miguel—had become so routine we may have lost sight of the immediacy of the crisis. 

Friends in Mexico have factored into their lives varying degrees of risk tolerance and precautions. At one end, some Trump supporters, conspiracy theorists and other deadenders, insist the pandemic has been blown out of proportion and may even be a nefarious hoax to undermine the president’s reelection. The word coup is in vogue among this group. 

Others, some with valid health concerns, are almost batshit hysterical with COVID-19 fears, don’t dare step out of their homes, and survive on take-outs and grocery store deliveries. 

But I wonder, as the contingencia, as the crisis is called in Mexico, goes on for months on end, how long can people remain hunkered in their homes without the emotional sustenance of personal contact provided by church services, volunteer organizations and other social encounters? Zoom and FaceTime sessions are poor substitutes. 

Stew and I have tried to steer a mid-course between denial and hysteria regarding the pandemic, though the news about Mario and my friend Jim, certainly jolted us from any complacency. 

But what further lifestyle changes can we adopt, given that there is no end in sight for the contingencia, and in fact, some epidemiologists predict a second wave of infections? Or that death and infection figures, both in the States and Mexico may be actually understated?

One routine we’ve recently revisited is to go on a “news diet”, to steer clear of the barrage of news, opinion and speculation that flies over the transom and into our lives daily from all sources. In particular, Trump’s grotesquely self-serving and dishonest manipulation of the crisis to promote his reelection is not something I need to be reminded of daily. We can live without additional did-you-hear-about? reports. I don’t think of it as “denial” but rather “enough already.”

As I’ve written before, our living circumstances in a rural situation outside of a small Mexican city, certainly have worked in our favor, keeping us healthy thus far. Work around the ranch, most recently planting a dozen trees in the land we recovered in front, plus routine chores involving gardening and maintenance, will be keeping us busy for the foreseeable future. 

I must admit that were we living in an apartment or more confined space, too much of our time would be spent glued to a computer screen, hopping from one “social platform” to another, as some of our friends do. I can’t blame them. 

Within the constraints of social distancing, we also try to stay in touch with a small pod of friends, lest we become hermits as the pandemic goes on.  

I‘ve developed a habit of praying in the morning, using an online format called “Pray As You Go,” offered by a Jesuit group in Britain. I’m not on the verge of a born-again epiphany, but find these fifteen or so minutes of meditation and quiet in the morning and sometimes before going to sleep at night, a comforting and reassuring prelude and postlude to the day. You may find a similar offering better suited to your religious preferences (or lack thereof).

A few giggles will do you good. 

A non-religious practice, drawn from previous Buddhist readings, is mindfulness. It consists of focusing on the tasks and challenges at hand throughout the day, and avoid letting our minds wander into dire scenarios or what-ifs. 

Finally, as a sort of amuse-tête, I’ve recently read two really humorous books by master satirists. “Make Russia Great Again,” by Christopher Buckley, son of conservative demigod William F., and “Squeeze Me,” by Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen. 

Their funny spins on the current political situation won’t clear up your mind, but will provide much needed giggles, and even an occasional knee-slapping laugh—just when we need them most.  



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