Saturday, April 4, 2020

We're Going to Get Through This

I know, this Coronavirus pandemic is getting to all of us, in various ways. Some of us, more than others. Some of us are merely bored. Some of us are getting cabin fever. Some of us are going broke and running out of supplies. Some of us, it's affecting our mental health in serious ways.

But we're going to get through this.

On January 20, before most of us had even heard of this virus, I posted the following:

We have survived 3 years of this Administration. You have survived it.

You, yes, you are a survivor. Think about it:

* If you are at least 11 years old, you survived the George W. Bush Administration.

* If you are at least 19 years old, you survived the entire Dubya Administration and the 9/11 attacks.

* If you are at least 29 years old, you survived the Cold War.

* If you are at least 31 years old, you survived the Ronald Reagan Administration.

* If you are at least 39 years old, you survived the entire Reagan Administration.

* If you are at least 46 and 51 years old, you survived the Richard Nixon Administration. And I have survived each of the preceding along with you.

* If you are at least 51 years old, you survived the entire Nixon Administration.

* If you are at least 58 years old, you survived the Cuban Missile Crisis.

* If you are at least 65 years old, you survived the Vietnam War, either serving in it or avoiding having been drafted into it.

* If you are at least 85 years old, you survived the Korean War, either serving in it or avoiding having been drafted into it.

* If you are at least 93 years old, you survived World War II, either serving in it or avoiding having been drafted into it.

* And if you are between 79 and 91 years old, you survived the Great Depression.

Congratulations on surviving everything that you have survived.

This country has survived all of that, and a Civil War, and a Revolution, and, yes, disease outbreaks, such as the yellow fever that often struck low-lying cities like Boston, Philadelphia and New Orleans with regularity. The parallel is appropriate, because yellow fever is spread by a virus (carried by mosquitoes), the symptoms are similar, the time of feeling bad is similar if you survive, and the date rate is similar if you don't. A vaccine for it exists.

Things may even be better afterward. The sense of community that we gained during the Depression and strengthened in World War II, lost thereafter, regained after 9/11, and then lost again as Trump divided us, is already beginning to return. Bad news for him.

And there will be great art coming from this. History -- and this article, published yesterday by -- suggests it is a certainty.

The Black Death of the 1340s, the bubonic plague, killed 1/3rd of the people of Europe. But it meant that employers who survived had to bid more for the workers who were left. They made more money, and so did the employers. Both could afford frivolous things for the first time glory days of ancient Rome, 1,000 years before. They started to buy books, sparking the rise of modern literature. And works of art, moving that forward. It was a rebirth -- in French, "Renaissance."

William Shakespeare never caught the plague, but he got a boost from it -- twice. In 1593, unable to put plays together and appear in them, he "self-isolated," and wrote several of his better-known poems, and one of his best-remembered plays, Romeo and Juliet.

That play references a plague: The priest sent to tell Romeo about the plan for Juliet to appear, not actually be, dead never got to Mantua where Romeo had been exiled, because he came to a plague-plagued town first. And let's not forget the dying words of Mercutio, friend to Romeo's House Montague, and thus enemy to Juliet's House Capulet: "A plague o' (on) both your houses!"

There was another plague outbreak in England in 1606. That time, he wrote 4 plays. Timon of Athens is generally considered not to be a big deal. Antony and Cleopatra, a decent-sized deal. King Lear and Macbeth are considered 2 of the biggest deals in the history of English-language literature. And each of those, except Antony and Cleopatra, reference a plague.

Another bubonic outbreak, in England in 1665, became known as the Great Plague. It closed down Cambridge University, forcing a student to stay home and think. Self-isolating, he self-educated, thinking about things like light and gravity, and how they worked. His name was Isaac Newton, and, over the next 25 years, his writings invented modern physical science.

Tuberculosis basically raged as an epidemic throughout the 19th Century. At one point, 1 out of every 4 people who died in Europe and North America did so due to T.B. Never was there a better Century for world literature. The disease killed John Keats at age 25 in 1821, Emily Brontë at 30 in 1848, her sister Anne Brontë at 29 in 1849, Honoré de Balzac at 51 in 1850, and Anton Chekhov at 44 in 1904. 

(Jane Austen died in 1817 at 41, but it probably wasn't T.B. Addison's disease and lymphoma have been suggested. Another Brontë sister, Charlotte Brontë, died in 1855 at 38, and the cause was given as T.B., but she was pregnant, and modern scholars think it was more likely due to constant morning sickness causing dehydration.)

Many 19th Century literary works featured a heroine dying young. Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights in 1847, at which point she and her sisters were already all ill. Alexandre Dumas fils' La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady with the Camellias) in 1848. Henri Murger's Scènes de la Vie de Bohème (Scenes of Bohemian Life) in 1851. Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary in 1856 (although Emma Bovary dies by suicide, not disease). Victor Hugo's Les Misérables in 1862. Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment in 1866. Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in 1878.

Not female, and definitely no hero, but definitely dying of a disease, a jungle fever in what was once known as "Darkest Africa," is Kurtz, the character around whom Joseph Conrad's 1899 European colonialism-themed Heart of Darkness revolves. That story became the basis for Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now.

And, of course, operas traditionally had unhappy endings. In 1853, Giuseppe Verdi took La Dame aux Camélias and turned it into La Traviata (The Fallen Woman). In 1895, Giacomo Puccini took Scènes de la Vie de Bohème and turned it into La Bohème. In each case, the Italian opera has achieved a fame that has eclipsed that of the French novel upon which it was based.

The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s hit New York's theater community, with a large portion of it occupied by gay men, very hard. Larry Kramer wrote The Normal Heart. William M. Hoffman wrote As Is. Tony Kushner wrote Angels in America.

Terrence McNally -- not a survivor of HIV, but a survivor of cancer, but with his immune system thus compromised, and thus on March 24 he died, becoming one of the more famous victims of COVID-19 -- wrote Love! Valour! Compassion! And Jonathan Larson, whose death at 35 in 1996, right before it could be staged, was due to a heart defect, not AIDS, wrote the musical Rent -- an unapologetically obvious update of La Bohème.

Just as novels, plays, films, paintings, you name it about various wars often appear even before a war ends, you can be sure that, within 5 years from now, someone who has survived the coronavirus pandemic will produce the 1st great work of art based on it.

And most of us will be there to see it.

Because we're going to get through this.

We have already gotten through so much. We're stronger and tougher than we know, until we have to know.

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