"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, December 4, 2021

OMG! Omicron! - Panic Takes Hold In A Timorous Chicken Little Population

Marfy Potter had just finished baking her Christmas cookies when the news appeared on MSNBC – the Omicron variant had arrived in California, it was spreading and would certainly be home by Christmas.  So what to do with the cookies?

Marfy was not alone in her reaction.  Hysterical fear of COVID was nothing new for her or her friends who early on in the pandemic scrubbed every surface with lye, fumigated and segregated the mail in special hazardous waste containers for three days, deployed industrial air purifiers throughout the house, never went outside, and hunkered down before the television listening for the latest spread, mutation, and any new, disfiguring potential of the virus. 

Image result for images chicken little the sky is falling

Even when Marfy dared to go outside it was only triple-masked, en plein air, with not a soul in sight, preferably at 4:30 in the morning and through the remotest areas of her neighborhood. She still had all of her food delivered and left on the front porch to be sprayed and fumigated, and carried inside only after she had donned her biohazard suit and gloves.

Her husband was of a different ilk.  Although never took the virus cavalierly – he was aware of the potential serious of the illness – he assessed his own personal risk, found it low; and at his age rather than consider himself a potential victim, figured that since death was on his doorstop in any case, why get exercised over a possibility?

In War and Peace Tolstoy wrote of the Battle of Borodino where in only one day tens of thousands of French and Russian troops lost their lives.  Rather than focus on the horrors of war, he focused on the camaraderie of the Russian troops, the glory of battle, the promise of heroism, and the greatness of the human spirit.

The question of why the soldiers of both armies fought is far more perplexing than the historical record of war, diplomacy, and geopolitics which lead to macro-decision about war and peace. Soldiers knew that their chances of survival were very small.  While they could not have anticipated the staggering attrition of Borodino – 70,000 men, French and Russian, were lost in one day – they knew about the nature of war in 1812, and Tolstoy’s description of battle was more than accurate. Soldiers stood on open ground while cannonballs howled and thudded around them.   The fusillades were such that the bullets sounded like angry bees chased from the hive.  Men unceremoniously fell to the ground left and right.  Officers were killed and regiments left leaderless.  Chaos often ensued. It was indeed a vision of hell.

The men who fought had no choice, for conscription had been established by Peter I in 1699; but they could have run (as many did in the rout at Austerlitz) and disappeared into the countryside.  No military justice, court martials, or police pursuit followed them.  So why did they willingly fight? Patriotism? Moral conviction? Respect for officers of the aristocracy and years of subservience to their class?

Pierre considers this – a spirit and camaraderie that seemed to ignore death and dying:

The booming cannonade and the fusillade of musketry were growing
more intense over the whole field, especially to the left where
Bagration’s fleches were, but where Pierre was the smoke of the firing
made it almost impossible to distinguish anything. Moreover, his
whole attention was engrossed by watching the family circle –
separated from all else – formed by the men in the battery. […] Pierre
did not look out at the battlefield and was not concerned to know what
was happening there; he was entirely absorbed in watching this fire
which burned even more brightly and which he felt was flaming up in
the same way in his own soul.

Something else animated the spirit of the soldiers – an indefinable sense of humanity, life, and the exhilaration of war. It is more than morale, discipline, or even patriotism.  Pierre saw in the almost happy faces of his comrades a complete, transforming, and overwhelming drive.

By ten o’clock some twenty men had already been carried away from
the battery; two guns were smashed and cannon balls fell more and
more frequently on the battery and spent bullets buzzed and whistled
around. But the men in the battery seemed not to notice this, and merry
voices and jokes were heard on all sides.

Even though the battle became more dangerous and threatening, the spirits of the men never flagged, and to Pierre’s surprise increased:

Pierre noticed that after every ball that hit the redoubt, and after every
loss, the liveliness increased more and more. As the flames of the fire
hidden within come more and more vividly and rapidly from an
approaching thundercloud, so, as if in opposition to what was taking
place, the lightning of hidden fire growing more and more intense
glowed in the faces of these men

There is a more practical reason. In 1812 the life expectancy of a Russian male was barely 30 years and dying from an infected foot or trampled by horses was par for the course; so why die so ignominiously when a glorious death awaited on the battlefield?

What has happened to this resolve when confronting death today?  How is it that we have become so timorous, cautious, and afraid of our own shadows? 

Some social demographers have suggested it is extended life expectancy that has led us to believe that death is unwarranted, unwelcome, and intrusive.  We now can live to over 80 years on the average, and we do not want to be cheated of any of them.  Modern science is our avant-garde, technology the vehicle for a guaranteed long life.  Survival has become all important, and every other consideration seems to have been lost and forgotten and left on the wayside.

Michael Potter was no philosopher nor student of literature; and the answer he gave to queries about his nonchalance could have been spoken by a hussar in Napoleon’s first regiment – “My death is certain so why be carried off by an infected foot?”

By late Spring of 2021 when the first vaccines were rolled out and when there was light at the end of tunnel, Marfy began to relax.  She waited in line at a cold, nasty clinic in a very undesirable part of town for her first shot and returned in the snow for her second. Then came the Delta variant, and although there were encouraging signs that double-vaccinated individuals had more than enough protection against the mutation and even if they were to get sick, the illness would be mild, Marfa went back into panic mode.  

She preached about the variant, its lethality, and the likelihood of cross-over infections, those which breached the vaccine barrier, and would cause certain death, and sprayed, scrubbed, and disinfected like the old days.  She triple-masked, once again had groceries delivered, re-activated the air purifiers, and re-imposed her severe quarantine measures.

When the threat of Delta passed, Marfa relaxed somewhat, but never let down her guard completely.  She wore a mask at all times, social distanced when it was not required, never shook hands, and spent as little time as possible with others.

“I told you so”, she said to her husband when the Omicron variant was discovered, who replied, as always, not to overreact.  The first indications were that although the Omicron variant might be easily transmissible and might cross vaccine barriers, it probably would not; and if it did, immunological protection would keep death away from the door.  “Wait and see”, he said. “Wait and see.”

But Marfa was not a wait-and-see kind of person and went into full lockdown mode.  This was the Big One, she said, biological Armageddon, and within months the roads would be littered with bodies. Images of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a post-apocalyptic novel where few people have survived a holocaust  flashed into her mind.  

The Baptists were right, she thought.  Judgment Day was right around the corner, but she wasn’t prepared.  She kept a Bible beside her bed but a lifelong agnostic didn’t know where to begin.  She even listened to Fox News which poo-pooed Omicron, hoping for a glimmer of hope but so profound was her conviction that The End was nigh, that nothing penetrated the gloom.

Image result for dore images armageddon

Meanwhile her husband went about his own business, refusing  the biohazard showers and hospital slippers his wife had asked him to use, but still respectful of her now crazed notions, he did as much as he could to keep peace.

Of course the Potters were not the only family terrified of Omicron; and in fact the whole country seemed to go quickly into Chicken Little mode.  The churches were once again filled, fiery oratory returned to evangelist television, Anthony Fauci’s face was everywhere, and the shelves were once again empty of toilet paper. 

As of this writing the sky has not yet fallen and it is unlikely that it will, but Marfa Potter has not heard the good news, remains hunkered in her bio-retrofitted basement, and come up only for sanitized meals.   Her husband, always a loving and never resentful man, did his best to encourage his wife out of her emotional bunker, but realized she was down there for good.  The marriage would never be the same once Omicron was history; but that was the way it always was – circumstance rules, and no one is immune from unsuspected events and even more surprising responses.

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