Journal of the Plague Year: April brings more than we can bear

Posted Wednesday, April 1, 2020 in News

Journal of the Plague Year: April brings more than we can bear

from a 14th century Belgian chronicler's manuscript, depicting people burying their dead at the height of the Black Death.

by Gina Hamilton

April 1, 2020

There was a two and a half hour long press conference yesterday with the President and the pandemic response team. It became clear in the course of that conference that even if everything was done absolutely right -- and it can't be, because there still aren't enough masks, respirators, ventilators, or hospital beds -- that America would lose at least 140,000 of her people, and possibly up to 2.2 million people. Many of those people are expected to die in the next couple of weeks.

April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot told us. There is something obscene about the beauty of lilacs, rising out of dead branch arms, whose feet are stuck in mud and filth left over from the winter. Yet the blossoms are appropriate for mourning, the time when those who died over the long winter can at last be put to bed in the earth. Abraham Lincoln died in April; Walt Whitman offered his corpse a sprig of lilac as it passed in great procession. Women who had been widowed for at least a year were allowed to go into half-mourning and one of the colors they could choose was lilac. Purple is the color the Church uses to denote a period of sacrifice, sorrow, and suffering. Purple is the color of the pall that a coffin is placed on during a funeral. 

Whatever happens in the next month, the numbers will be more than we can bear. Some of us have already lost friends. Some of us live in terror of losing someone close to us. Most of us have an awful lot of time to think about it.

But there is a flattening of the curve that can be done with this, as well as with the incidence of COVID-19. The same amount of time that we use to make ourselves mad with feverish anticipation of pain and suffering can be turned to offer love to a creature badly in need of it. Many people are adopting or fostering animals from the shelter. Plant seeds for the upcoming gardening season. Adopt one of your own rooms for a makeover. Nurture your houseplants back from their winter doldrums. Do a deep spring cleaning. On one of April's less cruel days, open your windows and open your doorways and let in the scent of the thawing earth and the dusty smell of the rain.

Ring friends who are isolated. Check in on elderly relatives, at least once a week. Buy books you can read on Amazon or your Kindle and share them with others. Start a virtual book club with like-minded friends.

We won't be able to escape the pain that will likely visit many of us during this month. But like participating in a danse macabre, we don't have to think about it every single moment of every single day. It will hit when it hits, but as my grandmother used to say, "Don't borrow trouble." You only have to pay interest on something that will be more than you can bear for longer than you have to.

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