My title is not only inaccurate, it is an out-and-out lie. I am not in Paris, but if I had written Albi instead of Paris, would you have known I’m even in France? Probably not. I’m also not writing about a zombie attack. I’m writing about the Coronavirus, aka Covid-19, but let’s face it, the coronavirus FEELS like a zombie attack. It feels like “War of the Worlds,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Hot Zone” – a triple feature of disaster. Words like pandemic and apocalyptic appear daily in the news. I keep expecting to read that some ultra-Christian group has stocked their pickups with food and guns and headed to the mountains to welcome Judgment Day.
Even sane people – hopefully, I’m sane – check the news daily for an update on the number of confirmed cases of the virus and the number of fatalities, as if checking the score of last night’s basketball game: Zombies 100,000, Humans 0. I check to see if there are confirmed cases in Maine, where I live, or in Missouri, where my elderly mother is in a nursing home. I check to see if Paris and Bordeaux and southeastern France remain the epicenter of the virus here or if the zombie virus is crossing the Pyrenees, heading toward this ancient, one-time ecclesiastical center of the Tarn region, the city of Albi. I am less than an hour from Toulouse, one of France’s largest cities, an international hub of the aviation business, and as such, a host to travelers from around the globe. I check the tally in Spain to calculate if my intended trip to the Basque region, especially to Bilboa, to visit the Guggenheim Museum, is too risky.
I waited a half-hour on the phone yesterday trying to reach Virgin Atlantic to see how great the financial rip-off if we changed our return flight to the USA to make it back before we might face quarantine or before the dolts in D.C. come up with a medical counterpart to Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense, something costly and unworkable but designed to make Joe and Betty Wallstreet feel better. But lunch time was rapidly approaching, and in keeping with the spirit of life in France, nothing interferes with lunch, especially when our landlady is our guest, and we have a reservation at a desirable and inexpensive restaurant less than a five-minute-walk from our front door. Multiple times I’ve read some variation of this statement: the French consider that only three things are required in life – one must eat, one must drink, and one must make love – so why not do all three really well? Vive la France!
Perhaps this philosophy is why I remain here even as the zombie virus spreads. Or perhaps I trust that the French medical system will provide as good if not better care than the corporate, profit-driven medical system in the US should I get sick. I mean, if I were home, I would not “choose” to fly across the pond to France, not right now, but since I’m here, and unlikely to pay Virgin Atlantic $1,500 to return immediately, why not enjoy the three-course plat du jour, the good $6 bottle of local wine, the chocolate mini-tart made at the patisserie next door?
People deal with disaster in different ways, but everyone I talk to agrees that the virus has changed how we are living. Here in France, fewer and fewer people are doing the double-cheek-kiss (la bise) as a greeting and/or a farewell. People are bumping elbows, a kind of “elbow fist bump” (la coude?). More people are staying home, avoiding crowds, stocking up on tissues and toilet paper and soap. Hand sanitizer is much more prevalent in the US than in France. When we see packets of wipes, we snap them up. Only then do we shop for wine.
One hundred years ago the Spanish Flu killed nearly twenty million people. So far this winter in the US some eighteen thousand people have died from flu. So, one must ask – are we panicked about something less deadly that what we face each winter? I don’t think so. One can get a flu shot and decrease the odds of having the flu. We also know more about how to treat a flu illness. Zombies are scary because there is no cure for their bite. The coronavirus is like that: no vaccine, no cure. There is only chance and time, and that’s scary.
Truth time! Yes, we did decide NOT to go to Spain where the number of people with the coronavirus is increasing rapidly and where the Guggenheim Museum may, if it gets worse, follow the Louvre in Paris and close its doors. Italy has closed its schools. Some countries are limiting crowds to five thousand. Exactly why that is a magic number nobody knows.
A few things we might want to remember. There are now 7.7 billion people on the planet. A true, true health pandemic would have to kill many more than this year’s flu … how about 1,000,000,000? Fifteen percent of all people? That would still leave the world over-populated, but even knowing that, we don’t wish for half the people to die. Most of us don’t.
The coronavirus is scary. So is Donald Trump (for many). Boris Johnson (for my British friends). The whack-job in North Korea (for everyone). But consider this: more children will die of malnutrition this month than the coronavirus will kill. Most likely, next month too. And so on.
We can say it however we want to say it: nobody gets out alive. We all know it; we don’t like it; we don’t like to think about it, and this is what makes the zombie virus (aka the coronavirus) so scary. But scary disasters are also an opportunity to reflect on what truly matters. While I fear the pandemic, while I worry about my friends and family, while I try to protect myself, the crisis also reminds me of how fragile life is. How precious life is. How lucky we are to be conscious beings. How kindness is the best expression of any religion and how love trumps all else.
Wherever we are – remember to be kind and be grateful – even while being scared!