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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Spooked By The COVID Aerosol–How Hardy Ames Fled The Panic And Found Purity And Peace In The Arabian Desert

Hardy Ames came by his unnatural fear of COVID naturally.  His grandmother was always after him about watching his edges, his mother followed him like a terrier to be sure he wore his bike helmet, and his maiden aunts from a family parsimonious in action as well as in finance tried to hem him in, keep him from risk.  He was like a municipal bond – a safe, secure investment with modest returns – and while the aunts loved him, they saw him as an investment in a market full of perils.  It was no wonder that he emerged from their protective shell afraid of his own shadow.

He was the butt of jokes on the playground for his refusal to climb the monkey bars, swing the branches of the oak tree, or ride on the seesaw, and yet even this social disgrace was not enough to get him out of the sandbox and off his tricycle.  As an adolescent, his timorousness became worse, and again the aunts came into play.  Girls were the devil’s mistresses, they said, carriers of temptation, disease, and disruption.  His mother and father, while not as Puritanical as the aunts, were insistent on him ‘minding his P’s and Q’s’, keeping to himself, doing his homework, and taking care of his younger brother.  So it was no wonder that just as he emerged from childhood as a fearful little boy, he barely made it through adolescence so great were the internal conflicts that beset him.  It was hard enough to keep his raging hormones in check without having God, Jesus, and Salvation in the mix.

Image result for images fifties comic books the female temptress

His early adult years were predictably safe – a good, but middling college; a degree in finance; and a career with a respectable accounting firm, one far removed from the high rollers implicated in the various Wall Street investment scandals and therefore far less remunerative, but given Hardy’s personality and preferences, a small office in a small firm, with small clients was perfect.

As predictably he married predictably to a woman a bit too much like his maiden aunts for his liking, but from a professional family, a decent career, and no pretentions.  They lived happily in a suburb of Washington with their three children.

And then COVID hit, and within weeks of its arrival in the US, Hardy regressed to his irrational childhood fear of edges, germs, and accidents.  He was sure that he would fall ill and die from the virus.  There was certainty involved, especially because of the hysterical reaction of political leaders.  This was indeed The Big One, they said, an epidemic of historical proportions compared to which the Bubonic plague was child’s play.  There were existential issues involved, for as the epidemic became pandemic, the entire world risked being wiped out.   Pastors warned of Armageddon from their pulpits, rabbis reminded their congregations of the seven plagues of Egypt, the Flood, and God’s anger at the dereliction of the human race he had created.   Politicians picked up on these religious sentiments and added moralism to their messages.  Anyone who did not wear a mask and maintain social distancing at all times was morally reprehensible and was in effect a murderer of the innocent.

Image result for images Bubonic Plague Woodcuts Medieval

Hardy was an early adopter, and quickly bought up hospital masks, disinfectants, and plastic shields before the rest of the population caught on to the danger.  Thanks to his efforts, his house became a virus-free zone, one which was fumigated, scrubbed, washed, and disinfected with regularity.  Mail was sequestered for three days, an astringent, agricultural sheep-dip foot bath was installed before the front door, and gloves were worn and thrown away every two hours. 

He never went out, relying on delivery, and while the food was never exactly what he ordered, it would do.  He devised a staging system whereby each outside delivery was quarantined for three days, and food was kept in a basement refrigerator.  In short he took every possible step to protect himself.  He knew that some day he would have to leave the house, but did not know when.

Then the aerosol scare hit.  Not only was the virus expelled in little droplets and mucus bits but as an aerosol spray which spread, lingered, and penetrated even the best surgical mask.  The virus had gone airborne and was virtually unstoppable. 

Image result for Covid 19 Aerosol

Hardy  immediately bought the best air purification system on the market, even though the manufacturer warned that it was only 60 percent effective and that effectiveness was conditional.  Nothing could be guaranteed.  It was at this point that Hardy snapped. It was one thing to be able to mechanically or behaviorally prevent infection – that’s what his three-layered mask was all about, his plastic shields, his mathematical precision about distancing, his quarantines, and his disinfectants – but an aerosol, a virus in an invisible mist was another thing altogether.  There was no escaping it.  It was microscopic, insidious, and deadly. 

He panicked, stalking the house and taking deep breaths only in basement closets, intermittently praying, worrying, and trying to sort out the jumbled thoughts in his brain.  For days he was so panicked that he couldn’t eat or sleep.  He was losing weight,  the lack of sleep was further confusing his thoughts, and he found himself mumbling and talking to himself.

Then it occurred to him – The Empty Quarter, that vast uninhabited, waterless, hot, but last pure place in the Arabian desert.  In the middle of these trackless wastes the air was crystalline and absolutely pure.  No one was inhaling or exhaling it.  No pathogens made their way from the coast and its urban settlements.  Only the hardiest microscopic organisms lived deep in the sand.  There were no hosts to feed on in the Empty Quarter, no blood to infect, no modes of transmission, and no infection.  This was the place for him. He would go alone and use his language, historical grounding, and knowledge of Arab culture and religion to join the Bedu.  Nomads were among the few people on earth who not only had never come in contact with COVID but had never heard of it.  He could live among them, travelling in camel caravans, and living a simple, uninfected life.

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Hardy’s hero was Sir Richard Francis Burton who had disguised himself so well as a Muslim from Afghanistan, that he was able to penetrate Islam’s holiest of holies in Mecca.  Had he been discovered as a white Christian he would have been immediately beheaded, but because of his unique ability to master language, comportment, dress, and inflection, he entered the Kaaba.  Hardy knew that he was no Burton, but knew that the Bedouins were far more tolerant than Saudi Salafists and would put up with if not accept him as a pilgrim on a holy journey.

Image result for images sir richard francis burton

This was not far from the truth because although the COVID aerosol had completely unhinged him in traditional ways – before leaving for Arabia he would have been labeled borderline schizophrenic – it had released a spiritual side that he never knew he had.  Although he was headed to the Empty Quarter to escape a horrible airborne virus and to breathe pure, clean air, he found the idea of a spiritual pilgrimage appealing.  

He did not underestimate the difficulty of his ambition, but pushed on anyway.  In fact once he had decided to leave the world and enter a pure, unsullied, pristine, perfect place, his tremors stopped, his breathing returned to normal, and his fears abated.  Solutions always resolve doubt, and so it was with Hardy Ames and COVID.  He knew that he could no longer live in a universally infected, deadly place, one whose days were numbered.  He had read the accounts of adventurer and Arabian explorer Charles Doughty (Travels in Arabia Deserta) who had traveled through the Empty Quarter with his Bedu caravans who survived on very little food and water.  Most importantly Doughty like Jesus, Muhammed, prophets and sages before him, found peace, beauty, and spiritual grace in the desert.

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He lived with the Bedu for so long that he never knew of the fate of the world he left; but only knew that he would never return.  There is a long psychiatric history of seers, prophets, and holy men.  There is something about becoming unhinged which leads to a certain spiritual clarity.  The desert itself in its immensity and unknowability is the perfect place for those for whom only life in empty quarters is sustainable.

In the America that Hardy left, the COVID aerosol panic threw everyone into a complete tizzy.  Rumors and counter-rumors abounded.  The aerosol mist was an accretive monster, growing larger and more universal every day.  One mist cloud absorbed another until it was one large, insidious, unstoppable menace.  Once the aerosol had gained this proportion, it became the perfect medium for viral mutation, and COVID would soon become as deadly and horrible as Ebola.  People literally ran for the hills on the unproven assumption that mountain air above 12,000 ft. was so thin that the cloud would have no stability.  Traffic jams formed on all Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming highways.

It was good that Hardy never went back to America, even though the aerosol panic ended as quickly as it began.  It took a while for a credulous, fearful public to accept the new recommendations and breathe city air again, but they did.  And eventually the virus itself dissipated, the population acquired herd immunity, and a vaccine was developed.  A tempest in a teapot.  Only an insignificant rise in mortality was noted when COVID was factored in.  Older people knew that their death was imminent regardless of the cause so became less worried about COVID.  Young people, never ones to worry about the future went about their business and their lives returned to normal. 

After so long with the Bedu, he became one of them – remarkable in a traditional Muslim, Arab society – and they took good care of him in his old age.  As most spiritual people who have had an epiphany, Hardy looked back on is former life and wondered how he could have been so seduced by irrationality and how craven he had become.  COVID had made people anti-social, obsessive, and existentially ignorant and the epoch of aerosol panic was the most shameful of all, and he escaped just in time, before the doors of the asylum closed tight behind him.

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