S T O R I E S I N T H E T I M E O F A P A N D E M I C
March 20- 21, 2020
Days 11 and 12
8 p.m. yesterday evening. The tv scroll of confirmed cases reaches 15,000 +.
9 p.m. Confirmed cases: 16,000.
10 p. m. Confirmed cases: 17,000.
I went to sleep quickly but awoke, as usual lately at two, and lay awake thinking about things for about 3 hours. One thing I tried not to think about was counting: a thousand cases an hour for another six or seven hours is?
The wind had risen and was beating the side of the house like a rug on a clothesline. Something creaked in the hall. The wind : figure and harbinger, cleansing and powerfully destructive.
Between gusts there was silence: an interstate runs through the other side of the village, a few blocks away, but in three hours I heard only a couple of vehicles passing through, hardly any compared to the normal frequency; maybe the absence was keeping me awake.
We live beneath an aerial flyway, and there’ll typically be two or three jetliners or more a day, booming across, so high they’re barely visible except by the white contrails. I realized I hadn’t heard a plane in days. Only when the tool breaks or the machine seizes up are we aware of what it does, really of its existence at all–and how much we depend on it . At that moment of breaking, it appears, like in the movie , the invisible man who only reappears at the moment of his death. But this is illusion too; the machines and the workers aren’t really invisible, most of the time; it’s just that we choose not to see them
I thought of the cities, New York– LA, where Andy and Irene live, Paris with Remi and Monette, Florence in Boothbay Harbor, my son Dake, daughter-in-law, Alice Lee and our granddaughter Lila in Providence; my daughter Reid, her husband John in Syracuse; and of they and the millions of others lying awake in wonder like me, in a solidarity of insomniac quiet, staring at the ceiling in the dark and listening to the empty streets, that amazing silence.
The pause exposes the invisible, the workers and works that run the economic and social machines; invisible time, occasionally glimpsed in the overlap of historical and individual lives; the silence underlying sounds.
Faulkner told the story of the old man who lived alone in a shack hard by the railroad tracks. At precisely 3 a.m. every morning the Dixie Special, a hundred cars long, rolled by with a roar and a clatter, rattling the windows of the shack and shaking its walls, but the old man slept through it every night, his sleep undisturbed and peaceful. One night after decades of the train passing always at the same time, every night, and his sleeping soundly through the racket, something delayed it back at the station.
3 a.m.: Dead Silence.
He bolts up in his bed, yelling, “ What was that?”
All of us together across the country, alone in our beds, or huddled together, looking up at the ceiling at the same hour, listening in wonder to the pause in how things have been all our lives. The skies silent, the streets empty of cars, quiet, only the wind buffeting the walls, and the living room clock, striking the hour.
What is there in this, perhaps historical, moment? Change? The invisible made visible? The crisis that Gramsci said comes between the unfinished dying of the old and the new, waiting to be born ? Is it, in the translation my son prefers, the time of monsters?
Yeats’s “rough beast, slouching toward Bethlehem,” –also— “waiting to be born?”
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