My mom spent her life as a dedicated realist. When things were going horribly, she told us, “This too shall pass.”
Whenever life came up roses, you could count on her to predict a downturn in good fortune and advise “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
To the degree that I seek out a sane, balanced response to most of life’s challenges, I remain my mother’s son.
This has been on my mind a lot lately amid the coronavirus crisis.
For weeks, the news has been full of shrieking headlines and dire predictions of global apocalypse. New cases, rising death tolls, travel moratoriums, canceled events, collapsing economies, stock market meltdowns, shortages of toilet paper – everywhere you turn, the planet appears to be trending toward the End of Times.
All this over a form of respiratory illness that, as of March 12, had sickened about 1,000 people in the United States, killing an estimated 29.
As I write this, the World Health Organization has just declared COVID-19 a “global pandemic,” citing more than 120,000 cases worldwide. At the same time, President Donald Trump tweeted yet again, “Our team is doing a great job with CoronaVirus!”
That’s life in our current truth-challenged age.
In an era when everything is political, when the media has sacrificed all credibility in pursuit of clicks and controversy, little can be deemed factual. In lieu of careful explanation, we have noise.
When every message seems to conflict – when it’s impossible to decide who to believe – the only sense that feels credible is common sense.
In times like these, I think about my mom.
A registered nurse by profession, my mother passed away at the end of 2017. Even so, I can predict what she would have told me if I raised the subject of coronavirus. Given her New Yorker’s penchant for colorful language, I’ll clean it up for public consumption. But it would have gone something like this:
“Don’t be a moron. Take a few reasonable precautions, take good care of yourself. Don’t do anything crazy. You’ve got a better chance of dying from heart disease or in a car crash than you do of coronavirus killing you.”
Sage wisdom, it seems to me. And a prescription that doesn’t require an incredibly radical change in lifestyle.
What does it entail?
Staying away from sick people and large crowds when possible. Not summering in Europe or Asia this year (marking 55 summers in a row I haven’t gone to Venice or walked the Great Wall). Washing my hands with soap and water for 20 seconds multiple times a day.
Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer like it’s a new hobby. Deploying Clorox disinfectant wipes on potentially germy surfaces like desks, doorknobs, light switches and my cellphone. I’ve also stopped checking the stock market, watching the evening news and rooting for the Arizona Cardinals.
That last one has nothing to do with coronavirus, but it’s definitely improved my emotional health.
Despite taking precautions, any one of us might still catch COVID-19. That’s a fear that I combat with simple mathematics.
It appears the disease is not fatal in 99 percent of cases. Most people who have coronavirus are asymptomatic and don’t even realize they’re carriers.
And the vast majority of those infected develop only a mild upper respiratory infection, which they get over in a couple weeks’ time by drinking plenty of fluids, getting some rest and taking a few Advil.
As my mom would’ve said, “Take care of yourself and you’ll be fine.”
Sage wisdom for times like these. Try not to freak out. Buy a few extra rolls of toilet paper. And we’ll all be just fine.