• Daniel Ethan Finneran

On Temporary Sickness

March 2020

It’s said that, in health, there are two things of which we ought to be mindful, but with which—owing, perhaps, to the charming insouciance and oversight of which so healthful a state is productive—we bother our heads very little. Those two things, we learn, of which we’re so shamelessly forgetful are, first, ourselves and, second, the lofty destinies for which these “selves” were created. Implicit, of course, in this arrangement is the assumption that we as human beings, members of a species, for better or worse, uniquely gifted with the dual powers of reason and intuition, of abstraction and love, have in the depth of our core a distinctive and unerring purpose. We’re built, in other words, with an end in mind. In whose mind that end rests, however, we’ll forever remain uncertain.

The chief use, then, of a temporary sickness is to remind us of these neglected concerns. In our lovely and normal state of health, in our homeostatic world and everyday balance of whose unperturbed continuation we feel ourselves complacently assured, we devote inadequate attention to those weighty and fundamental concerns. Those concerns, mind you, of whose weight and rootedness others before us were so keenly aware, were first uttered by the great American thinker and transcendental sage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, only later to be repeated by a far inferior thinker on the page along whose lines your eyes now lazily drift.

At first, we forget ourselves. We forget that inexplicable tethering of spirit and body, of mind and brain. We forget that inscrutable yet unbreakable bond by which the distinct and incommensurable natures of man and god are at once joined. Within us is a cosmos, from whose powerful gravity we so often and aimlessly drift. Secondly, in a state of health, we forget our destinies. What is the end, precisely, toward which the strenuous endeavors of man ought to aim? By what conquests is he to be fulfilled, and to what heights, humble or exalted, should he aspire? A unity with the nature, out of whose fertile soil he once bloomed and upon whose minerals, for want of nourishment, he’s still unconsciously reliant, might not be too far off the mark in answering that ultimate question—that question of, what exactly we’re destined to do?

But, all that being said, it’s important that the sickness of which we speak be temporary, and not final; it must be short-lived and not fatally severe. It must be fugacious rather than conclusive, amenable to being conquered, and not at all threatening to the perpetuation of our species and our race.

While the novel and terrible Wuhan Coronavirus (by which, for at least the past two months, the entire world and its economy has been fully assaulted, if not irreparably destroyed) isn’t, by every scientific measure with which we’ve lately been assuaged, the ultimate disease to which our species will succumb, it certainly is nothing to which the term temporary might be applied. By the most sanguine of estimates, this blight born of the atavistic Chinese “wet” markets, those fetid menageries of meat, pestilence, and filth for which that country is so problematically notorious, will be with us deep into the summer months. Irrespective of our efforts socially to distance ourselves from one another and our breathless sprint toward the development of an effective vaccine, this is most likely to be the case henceforth. Less encouraging still is the fact that, if the virus does happen to slow its spread during the torrid length of the summer months, it’s potential recrudescence with the arrival of fall is quite real. Such was the experience in 1918 with the Spanish Flu which, after seeming to vanish during the warmer weather of the summer months, re-appeared as to autumn the season turned.

If, then, as Emerson said, the chief use of a temporary sickness is to remind us of that which, in health, we forget, what is the use of this deadly phenomenon by which we’re now confronted—a disease that will be, by every indication, a permanent and devastating blight?

What utility is there in a virus to which we humans offer no natural immunity, and from which there appears to be little hope of escape? Unlike a temporary sickness for which our robust Emerson had but little fear, this Wuhan coronavirus isn’t one by which we’ll be philosophically humbled, as, in the presence of his peculiar ailments, was he. Nor is it one by which we’ll be sobered, nor made to look introspectively at our destinies and selves. Being of a more permanent and perilous kind, we’ll be reminded not of these great thoughts, but of the tenuous reality of our mere existence. And we’ll conclude, solemnly, that it won’t ever be the same—despite our noble selves and our enduring destinies.

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