For more than a decade, I’ve been writing about the isolated, the lonely, the abandoned: Those who feel that the world has no place for them.
Now all of us will know something of their isolation and, in the case of people who live on their own, loneliness.
Those I’ve been writing about are the luckless hundreds of thousands in the United States — millions around world — who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, now known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. They are sentenced to live separately by their illness and its debilitating fatigue. They are a kind of living dead. Now I have a glimmer, no more to be sure, of how it must be every day for these sufferers.
What will it be like for the rest of us in two weeks when we’ve exhausted the pleasures of home life and yearn to see our friends, go to a restaurant, a play or a concert? Just to live normally?
I’ve always tried to console myself with what I call “adventure therapy.” Like most pop psychology it isn’t very profound, but it does help. Will it help now? I have no idea.
Anyway, the therapy is that you try to find the adventure in any situation you’re in, which can include some hairy ones, like facing surgery. (Who will you meet? What’s all the equipment? How will they perform the surgery? Do the doctors like doctoring? What kind of life do the nurses live?)
In my own home — mercifully which I share with my ever-cheerful wife — I wonder where the adventure lies in this crisis.
First, I know I won’t write the Great American Novel or any work of fiction. I won’t write my life story, as I’m constantly advised to do. My ego is robust, but I’m not sure it’s robust enough for that.
Oscar Wilde worried about “third-rate litterateurs” picking over the lives of dead writers. Of course, it seems to me some lives are lived with an eye to posterity.
I’m always amazed at people who in the middle of great trauma or great events have time to sit down and write what they think and feel. I’m glad they do, but I don’t think we’re entitled. The world loves Shakespeare’s works and knows nothing much about him.
We know too much about people of minor achievement whom we call celebrities. We watch them and their petty lives with the attention of a fakir watching his snake. Yeah, I’m no better. I want to know what’s to become of Meghan and Harry, where will Lindsay Lohan settle and, only somewhat less trivially, what are the late-night comedians doing with their spare time now that we learn that they need huge staffs to be funny?
I do think we need a record of our times, often informed by memoirs.
Unfortunately, and inexcusably, when the Trump era is behind us, we’ll know too little about what went on in the inner councils of the White House. President Trump has shown near contempt for the Presidential Records Act, inspired by the fall of President Richard Nixon. Trump writes little and destroys much that it written, we’re told.
One has always dreamed of a time when there was enough leisure to read, maybe plow through Tolstoy, give Proust another go, or try to understand Chinese literature. But I think that won’t happen. I’ll read the same kind of books I always read: biographies and crime stories. Most likely I’ll read a bit more, curse television a bit more, and squander my time watching and reading the news about COVID-19.
As I struggle to avoid the temptations of the refrigerator and that reproving word processor (It whispers, “Write a book.”), I’ll wonder about those who existed before this pandemic in a long, dark tunnel of isolation without hope of light at the end: Those who can hardly hope to break out one day into what Winston Churchill called the “sunlit uplands.”