Coronavirus: Embrace the Uncertainty



Lines are long in NYC supermarkets due to Coronavirus concerns.


When I started writing this text, the U.S. did not have the largest number of the coronavirus cases in the world. I don’t think I ever remember statistics changing so rapidly, that the only way to look at them would be to stay tuned all the time. 

Before the quarantine, I never checked the news before noon because I think it is unhealthy, but now I cannot envision a morning without looking up the outbreak statistics, and I am certainly not the only person to have an urge for the freshest information. However, I think that this desire is actually what got us into this mess in the first place, and now as we continue to self-isolate, we face a serious trial of patience.

As an international student, “Dude, that really sucks for you,” became the most frequent sentence I hear. Right now I sit at home on a mandatory quarantine; on entrance to Estonia, where I currently live, I was forced to write down my ID to a special database that keeps an eye on me. Sneaking out is impossible, because every single policeman in the country is on patrol, and in about a week they will start using my mobile data to track me in real time; they say it’s still under the Data Protection Act, they will not be sharing this information with anyone, and they will destroy it, but what if other, less honest regimes start doing the same?

This all feels like reliving the Book of Job, and I cannot even begin to imagine how terrible this situation turned out for those who were kicked out of their dorms and had no other place to stay, or those who were denied entry to their home country because of a lockdown. I myself had to rush tickets and almost spent my last dollars paying fees for overweight bags (the employees were generous to me; nobody anticipated anything quite like this pandemic). 

These days I barely leave my room; I sleep on the couch, which is also my study zone, and the same bags that got me stopped at the border are now my office table. If I am considered lucky, then what is there to say about the rest of the world?

I remember how a month ago I got the flu, and then joked to my teacher that I hopefully wouldn’t miss her class because of the coronavirus. I remember how when diagnosing the flu, the doctor asked me if I have recently been to Wuhan, and I said that I started feeling worse after getting Chinese food. I would not take the matter seriously even when the classes were canceled. That day, all of my university friends, myself included, spent the rest of our day in Central Park playing in the spring sun, and back then I realized that this is going to be a last truly happy moment for a while. 

A few days later, I received news that my country was preparing for lockdown, and my parents’ business was shut down due to government regulations. Shortly afterward, my theater tickets which I bought the same day that classes stopped, were canceled due to the outbreak. As I went to Trader Joe’s for groceries, I saw a line of people reaching the end of the block. 

It seemed like the apocalypse had begun, and all this time I thought that the crisis was just a minor inconvenience. Not so long ago, I saw a story on Instagram where my friend wanted to apologize to all the apocalypse movies where nobody listened to scientists’ warnings until it was too late. I really hope that this pandemic is not going to kill us like the zombie apocalypse, but I think that humanity deserved to undergo this trial.

The pandemic even infected someone in my small town of Tabasalu, which is only 10,000 people. Despite mass hysteria, and the fact that we live in a completely different world with irreversible changes, I have little fear of the virus itself. After all, coronavirus did not buy out all the toilet paper, or blame itself on Chinese people, or denied its existence until social isolation all over the world became the only way to contain it. 

The English language has recently coined the term “covidiot,” which is someone who either treats a serious issue with ignorance, or who looks out primarily for himself during these tough times. Judging by the endless photos of empty store shelves, this word is too relevant, and it seems like all of us are covidiots, but unlike those before us, we are aware of what happened during the past pandemics.

As history and literature teachers like to mention, Mark Twain once said, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” If an online etymology dictionary and four sources on Wikipedia are to be trusted, the root of the word “quarantine” comes from Italian word “forty,” which is the number of days that ships had to spend in port before unloading during the Black Death. Back then, anywhere from 75-200 million people died from the plague, and judging by how rapidly the virus spreads, it looks like we all might one day have it, but will our humanity allow us to save all these lives? It is an impossible question to ask.

All I know is that we have power over what we can do, and it looks like this point in history is a perfect time to dedicate more effort to working on things that we can control. Personally, I found this part of the outbreak to be extremely challenging.

Growing up, I was used to knowing everything in the moment, and I never really experienced anything even remotely similar to the uncertainty that the pandemic brought with it. Truth be told, I really wish that some politician, economist or doctor would come out right now and tell the world that buying 10 rolls of toilet paper saves one person from this disease, or maybe that if we place a bottle of hand sanitizer on a shrine to Danny DeVito, then the virus will pass our lives by. As a person who tried both of those things, I am frustrated that it doesn’t work.

I have just finished reading Mark’s Gospel for my sacred texts class, and if the Bible has taught me anything, it’s that nobody trusts a prophet at their word. Jesus had to actually perform miracles on people, to die and be reborn only for others to admit that he truly was the son of God. I feel like something very similar is happening to us right now, that we will finally acknowledge the power of nature only after it has really hurt us.

If we are to learn from the coronavirus, we have to find ways to accept the uncertainty. Maybe instead of constantly worrying about how it slowly takes over our lives, we need to find a way to cope. There is a lot of advice online, and the evolution of technologies does wonders to the amount of sources we can access from home. I hope that the world after coronavirus will not be as cruel as the trials that we all undergo right now.

In the end, God had mercy on Job, and hopefully the same will happen to all of us, but before it does, we have to learn to face the uncertainty and not rely on plans. Everything is subject to change, and nothing is determined.