• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Love In The Time Of Coronavirus

April 2020

Love is the experience, indeed the only experience, for whose arrival the heart will wait. Yet, patient though it is, and indefatigable as its constant beat, it discounts the peril to which it exposes itself during so long an allotment of time. Such innocence is to be expected, however, of an organ—of which muscle is the scaffolding and iron the fuel—tasked with so unrelenting and perpetual a function, a job from which, for at most nine decades, it’s given nary a moment of rest. The heart, at our urging and, more perhaps than that, at our imperious biologic need, must never be felt to alter, much less to stop, the regularity of its incessant pace. It’s a job of which, with quiet deference, the physical body is alone in being thankful, but one to which, in all its oversight, the unknowable brain, too busy with its fluttering thoughts, pays precious little mind.

And so, the heart pumps, and the heart waits. In so doing, it ignores the very real potential for a fracture, the propensity—by which love’s fickle presence is always dangerously attended—to a painful and irreparable break. These are the worries by which the head is encumbered—for which, we well know, each hill of anxiety conceals a mountain of distress.

The heart, dauntless explorer that it is, cares for so portentous a landscape not. It embraces both summit and valley alike. It endeavors to go where the head refuses to take it. These are not, so far as it’s concerned, the places by whose frightening views its domain will be occupied. Instead, it sits in silent observation of that point, enchantingly distant yet ambiguously distinct, at which the sky and the sea converge. It looks to the place out of which the fascinating images by which we’re daily enlivened arise. There, it gazes at the horizon, an endless line whose sea-bathed sunset a variegated collection of blue, orange, and red brightens not only the sky, but our soul, from which it hopes to see the outline of the ship of love, long coming in its voyage, finally emerge and move swiftly to our shore.

For the attainment of some other, doubtless lesser good, the heart will not suffer so long a delay. It will not devote its time to an inferior acquisition, one easily procured by which, upon its capture, it’s neither exalted nor glorified, heightened nor gladdened, deified nor christened in the house of the gods. Love is the exception, and love is the rule. Its advent is that for which the soul, typically temperate though seldom obedient, quietly yearns. The soul, our soul, is clamorous in the presence of things too numerable to name, yet it knows the restraint with which it must address the variously diffident and dallying figure of love. So too, in ways more obvious to the eye, does love impart its effect upon the body, into whose proximity it comes, and from which it can’t then leave. Of course, it can and often does, but not of the skin’s own accord. The flesh, that long, complex, and sun-scarred integument—sometimes of a darker, sometimes of a lighter hue—by which the unravaged soul is safely enclosed, does all it can to keep love near. Yet love, evasively clever and frustratingly thin, hasn’t the least difficulty in planning, attempting, and executing its escape.

So it was in the time of Cholera, so it is in the time of Corona. Granted, the etiology of either disease—that about which the famed Colombian author, Gabriel Garcia Márquez so movingly wrote, and that by which we’re so gravely, presently afflicted—isn’t quite the same. The former, bacterial in nature with a distinctive inhabitance among the nooks and folds of the winding gastrointestinal tract, is a disease upon which simple medications have a powerful and, more importantly, a reproducible influence. It’s a disease—one by which any number of under-developed and impecunious nations have been, in the throes of their wretched squalor and slow maturation, burdened—for which simple anti-biotics now readily exist. One need only turn, for their acquisition, to the alcoves of modernity, through whose gilded pipes, sanitary and potable water freely springs and out of whose industries medical advancements flow.

The latter, to our great misery and misfortune, isn’t so amenable to the baths of scientific advancements and the baptisms of change. Neither, so it appears, is it attentive to our cleanliness. Virulent in nature, and by that, I mean viral, the Wuhan Coronavirus isn’t one upon which our ordinary medical techniques have proven themselves availing. It is respiratory in origin, though mischievously capable of infiltrating most every organ system to which, for one reason or an unknown other, it’s lured. Up till this point in time, our pharmaceutical companies (once condemned, now cheered) haven’t yet proposed interventions by which it’s to be persuaded; with contempt does it laugh at our desperate consumption of elixirs, potions, and pills. Our valiant public health officials, despite their blind and best efforts, haven’t yet, with any appreciable consensus, developed charts and measures by which its exponential growth is to be stunted. It eagerly foresees the heights to which, in the coming weeks, it’ll inevitably grow, and finds in its past progress no source of discouragement. It’s prospects, it thinks, are grand and improving. It’ll wax, very much larger, before it decides with pernicious humility finally to wane.

In the time of cholera, love was made to wait. And so, given no other alternative, it did just that. This is a reality by which the heart can abide. For over five interminable decades, an insufferable half-century during which the story’s charmingly blemished protagonist, Florentino, passed his time with the indulgence of his every sexual whim, the two youthful lovers, around whom this great story is built, lived apart, but never without a passing thought of the other.

Fermina, his beloved, the woman to whom all of his love’s spiritual splendor was directed, initially felt the same way; she requited all the grand feelings, the noble sentiments, the flammable passions by which he, and now she, was so exuberantly inspired. But this flame, having hardly made the leaping evolution from a spark, was just as rapidly quenched.

The calculated interference of her sober-thinking father, a man to whom the frivolities of immature love, if it so be called, meant absolutely nothing, made certain of that. With the peremptory and cold snap of his finger, their blossoming relationship was shorn of the soil into which its roots had tentatively hoped to settle. By his edict, an oppressive and paternal decree, Fermina was taken from the house of her youth, of which her devoted Florentino was so constant a visitor, and brought to a distant city to which, despite his best efforts, her Romeo was unable to travel.

Though removed from his inamorata, the girl, now the woman, to whom he’d dedicated his still fledgling life, Florentino fell not into a state of despair. Perhaps he fell into a state of lasciviousness and loose sexual restraints, but it was never a depth so deep that he couldn’t recover himself at once. His fidelity to Fermina or, at least, to his idea of Fermina, was left not only intact, but absolutely inviolable—even as he pursued the satisfaction of his, how shall we say, masculine bodily urges and needs. To him, she was sacrosanct, even if he were a sinner. He may have slipped, here and there, into the empty liaisons and blank assignations to which a life as a sailor on the water, so distant from the stability of the land, is susceptible, but his spiritual, if not his corporeal devotion to Fermina was never for an instant shaken.

For her part, Fermina succeeded in capturing the attention of a young and dashing physician—a man of science, progress, and unfeeling rationality by the name of Juvenal Urbino. Propitiously stationed in not only this, but in any world under whose archway he might’ve passed, Juvenal was, as his name makes clear, a young urbanite. He was a man of brilliance and means, an educated and refined doctor beneath whose capacious insole the rest of the living world sat in wait. He was the man from whom a shadow would proceed, as long as his fame, in whose welcome shade an over-heated, under-nourished country might be cooled and healed. This was a country into which he was making his ambitious debut and this, cholera, was a disease for whose eradication he’d be a wretched nation’s patron saint.

Intrepidly did he wage his fight, sometimes gaining, often losing ground to the ravages of the plague. But his love, no less pertinent to the world of his devoted Fermina, was a slightly more impotent expression of the acumen and the robust ability of this man. While his science was a pursuit of total conquest by which, having won his prize, he’d surely be universally renowned, his romance was a picture of complacency and want. He hadn’t the numinous, intransigent, desperate love by which the vanquished Florentino was so passionately possessed. The hard and callous science of which he was so staunch an advocate ended up being the force by which he was mortally overcome. Youthful, at this point, in no other attribute outside of his name, Juvenal decided to climb a ladder in pursuit of his pet parrot—to whom a nearby mango tree seemed the more hospitable option when compared with the steel confines of his cage.

Gravity, the force to which we’re all so frustratingly and imperceptibly bound, proved the devilish compulsion to which Dr. Juvenal Urbino was fatally to succumb. As a consequence of her husband’s unexpected, arboreal death, Fermina—now far displaced from the radiant beauty of her riper years—was once again romantically open, though understandably reluctant to proceed as such. Then a child, now a widow, Fermina—with the everlasting enticement and magic of a femininity and a womanly charm against which man, despite his better efforts, has no natural defense—rekindled the latent emotions of love on to which Florentino had so long held. A hesitant courtship led to the renewal of their love. One suspects, however, that even through the decades of their radically divergent lives, so deep an attachment and so insuperable a bond was never fully broken. The heart, you see, has a tendency to wait. Florentino’s, more even than Fermina’s, is encouraging proof of this.

And so shall it wait in our own time as well. Márquez wrote of love in the time of Cholera; we write of that in the time of Coronavirus. The heart, while vulnerable to the hostile takeover that is the insidious hallmark of this viral threat, will persist, at the very least, in awaiting the return or the renewal of a suspended love. While it might be a virus by which the heart is endangered, this isn’t a phenomenon from which, in fear of its own preservation, it will turn and run. Its resolve is too far determined, its patience too unyieldingly long. It’s demonstrably stronger than any disease by which it might be afflicted, of which the enduring resonance of its each and every beat is another bellow of proof. Neither months of social distancing, nor one hundred years of terrible solitude could shake the confidence of our still beating, still loving heart. Love in the time of Coronavirus, should we remain patient through its spread, will give us the life to love again. We are all Florentino, and our hearts, in the face of illness, must settle down and wait.

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