“In a world under siege, a new virus continues to spread. The pathogen can be lethal. It travels beyond borders, often undetected inside its host. It is transmitted invisibly, silently, through the common air we breathe. Its carriers walk among us. There is no vaccine. There is no reliable cure. And now, it may be mutating.”
If you’d heard someone saying something like that last fall, you might have thought it was dialogue from an upcoming science fiction blockbuster due to be released over the holiday season. In fact, let’s pretend it’s eight months ago. You’re sitting in a crowded movie theater eating popcorn with someone, watching trailers for upcoming holiday releases.
Suddenly you hear, let’s say, Morgan Freeman intoning my first paragraph above as voice-over dialogue, with his typical gravitas. Then, ominous music swells against a backdrop of images showing chaotic hospitals, a plummeting economy, global tensions, technological mayhem, social unrest, explosions, stunts — I don’t know, probably throw in the suggestion of a sex scene if it’s a trailer for a blockbuster. If you’d experienced something like that in a theater last fall, you’d have taken it in stride, right? It’s just a trailer for a movie. It’s thrilling make-believe.
Well, here we are, folks. It’s real. And I gotta say I like my made-up “movie” version better.
In my fictitious movie, the plot is unfolded and wrapped back up in a couple of hours, maximum. The good forces prevail over impossible odds thanks to good old-fashioned American ingenuity and grit. And even if the villainous virus isn’t completely defeated at the end, we all feel pretty damn sure that the American protagonists would kick its ass again if it were to flare back up and threaten our way of life once more. That’s why Hollywood makes sequels.
But who among us could have known that living through an actual global pandemic would take such a long, tedious amount of time? Epidemiologists, perhaps. Scientists, in other words. Not screenwriters. Not politicians. Certainly not your basic man in the street like myself.
It will soon be five months since the gravity of the COVID-19 threat began to become apparent in the US in places like New York City, where serious illness and deaths from the virus began their breathtaking upward spiral. Closing schools, workplaces, social distancing, wearing masks, obsessively washing hands—all these things that seemed so drastic and awkward four months ago turned out to have been wise moves for the health of people living in New York State.
Despite the New York example, other parts of the country stubbornly went against it and are now discovering that the virus goes about its business regardless of a community or an individual’s personal or political beliefs. Cases are spiking there and these places are closing back down. Rather than learning from what has been shown to be effective here, people elsewhere are becoming sick and many are dying unnecessarily.
If we’re honest we know this is the unfortunate truth. Still, for many it’s hard to continue practicing the cautious behaviors that caused us to “flatten the curve.” Music lovers are feeling frustrated about the lack of shows to attend. For legitimate venue owners, it’s a nightmare that can’t be sustained indefinitely. For myself, and I think for many performing musicians who initially were open to performing virtual shows on social media, well, a general sense of burnout has set in. We all wonder how much longer life will go on this way.
The problem is that no one knows for sure. One day, historians will be able to answer that question for us.
Until then, these are straight up hard times. You’re feeling pent up and anxious to get back to normal? Remember the grief felt by those who’ve lost loved ones to this virus and will carry a piece of that sadness in their hearts for the rest of their lives. We need to feel more compassion, all around.
Since most of us are still spending more time at home, I’ll close this month’s musings with a verse and refrain from a famous parlor song. The “parlor song” was a type of entertainment that became popular during the Victorian Era, as amateur musicians and singers would gather in the parlor to perform songs interpreted from sheet music. This one was written by Stephen Foster and first published in 1854:
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh! Hard times come again no more.
Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.