One of the things we normally do not pause to consider is that, in most post-apocalyptic fiction – be it an after-the-bomb movie or a zombie plague comic or a novel about a killer virus leading to the collapse of Western civilization – we are, most likely, dead.
The thought struck me a long time ago, watching a movie in which, after some unnamed catastrophe, the main characters walked over a field of sun-bleached skeletons, the victims of that ancient whatever. And I thought, that’s probably me, the one whose skull’s just been crushed under the boot of the hero.
A few hours ago the news came – through Facebook, of all things – that the first COVID-19 case has been reported here in the village where I live.
Of course the identity of the sick person has not been revealed, and there is no official communication from the Mayor – and as a result, fear is running rampant. We are a small, isolated community, and this means that as long as it was good, it was very good – very low probability of catching the virus; but on the other hand, now that the virus is here, the small number of citizens, the isolation and the presence of only two shops in town means the likelihood of having come in contact with the infected is pretty high.
The lack of official information only serves as fuel for panic.
And yes, I am afraid.
I am in my fifties, my health is not that solid, I have blood pressure and circulation issues … I am on the A list of those that will die.
Add to that the uncertain financial condition – I have a few clients that have not been paying what they owe me, a few jobs just fizzed out (one, exactly 12 hours ago), I have bills accumulating – and the fear is real.
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”Isaac Asimov
Turns out Ike was right.
I am trying to type faster.
I am also making a mental list of all I need to put in order – like writing on a piece of paper all the passwords and the codes for our banking accounts, PayPal and all the rest, for my brother.
I am also preparing a letter for my brother, should worse come to worse – because I don’t want to leave him hanging, alone and lost, like our father let us hang, alone and lost when he died. I have to think about my brother’s survival and well-being in case I should not make it.
These are sobering thoughts, but again, only yesterday I was talking about how fear can be a tool, to strip us of all our useless conceits and affectations, to make us focus on what’s really important.
It’s like saying, this is here and now – there is nothing else.
This is the zen master’s kono mama – things as they are.
It makes real what is usually a background information we are only too happy to dismiss – we will be gone, sooner or later.
As a reader of science fiction and fantasy, and historical fiction, I’ve been there quite often – in my spare time I saw bombs and asteroids blast into nothing whole continents, foreign and alien hordes sweep away whole nations, plagues kill-off civilizations.
Always there was a bunch of survivors, clawing their way out of the wreckage. Conan, alone, or with a scantly clad blonde in tow (lucky Cimmerian bastard) walking away from the battlefield bruised and bloodied but ready to face a new challenge, Harry Flashman running away from danger and ready to sacrifice anything (and anyone) to save his skin, usually with hilarious consequences. John Carter, uttering his catchphrase.
Still, I live.
We identify with the hero that survives, and that’s good.
We want to deny our own mortality.
And it is scaringly easy how a quick communication via Facebook can shatter all that.
And yet, John Carter was right. As long as we are alive, we can do something, and faced with our own death, we can focus on the essential.
And type faster.