By Armando Chaguaceda
HAVANA TIMES – What we’re living through has no parallel. It’s not a war where we know who and where an attack is coming from. Neither is it an earthquake, whose quota of deaths comes in one blow; or a hurricane, which we can predict then protect ourselves from, or flee. The thing that most resembles this pandemic, for a modern city dweller, is the terrorist threat.
They share the unpredictability of the risk, the instantaneous horror, the inoffensive familiarity of the carrier. A terrorist can be any of us, without others knowing. Likewise, the virus can be in anyone, without they themselves knowing. The enemy isn’t outside of us, it lives within our cells and on our walls. For that reason, paranoia sets in, becoming an everyday attitude, affecting our resilience as we wait for the unknown.
As almost everyone else in this world, and especially in the West, I fear death. Not only because it’s a voyage into the unknown, associated with pain and loss, both doubly disquieting for an atheist like myself. But I also fear it because I once before stood before its fangs.
A quarter century ago (it takes on more gravity written like that, than if I say “25 years ago”), I contracted leptospirosis. The rat illness, they call it in Cuba. With an organism that was at the height of youth, they put me into therapy with my life at risk.
Later, I was hospitalized for three weeks in a military center. At that time, I experienced the most extreme physical and spiritual sensations. I don’t want to relive them, nor to see them around me in the people that are important to me.
But if that experience left me something, it was the certainty that in addition to effective treatment, interior peace and family support can be decisive in overcoming mortal contagion. During those days, as my head and eyes improved, I enjoyed music and books that had been foreign to my habits.
I thought over the things that had until recently traumatized me: my parents’ fights, the break-up with my girlfriend, the good grades I didn’t achieve, and put them all in their correct perspective. And I enjoyed, as never before, the company of my father, who never left my side. Never before or after had we talked so much and so deeply. About everything.
Now that my first week in quarantine slowly advances, I look for those resources within me. I enjoy more all the funny things my dog does. I pay more attention to every conversation with my wife. I savor the hidden tastes behind her seasonings. I pay close attention to setting the table. I give new meaning to the ritual of the open book, the color of the walls that stretch beyond my bed.
Together we are converting the terrace into a solarium and a playground. We impose, according to the advice, segmented habits and spaces that give meaning to each activity and moment of the day. We take on-line classes. I’ve even thought about planting flowers and aromatic spices.
All of this and more will be necessary, since I don’t know how long we’ll remain in the current situation. If I add to this the physical and communications distance from our loved ones, everything that we do to keep our balance will be little.
Our parents on the island are older people. And the opacity and nonsensical way in which Havana, like many other governments, has managed the crisis is terrifying. Normalcy won’t return because we imitate it, ignoring the threat. But we must overcome this pandemic the best way possible. In these fateful hours, prudent, logical thought is greatly needed, be we statesmen or simply citizens.