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Friday, April 17, 2020

The Novel Coronavirus and Christian Faith

Viruses frighten and disgust me. Always have. 

Not enough people realize that viruses are not alive. 

People keep calling in to public-service radio talk shows and asking questions like, "If I put something in the freezer, will that kill the virus?"

Sure, freezing would kill the virus ... if it were alive. It's not alive, and we really should have schools that taught people basic facts like that. 

Viruses, outside of their hosts, are inert packages of information. These packages gain power only after gaining entrance to a host cell. 

Virus propagation is diabolical. 

You get a cold. Your nose runs. Your eyes water and itch. You touch your face to address the runny nose and watery eyes. Your hands are now covered with viral material. You touch doorknobs, cooking utensils, and a loved one's face. 

You have done the virus' work for it. You have spread disease to those about whom you care. 

Once the virus enters its host, it penetrates the host's cells. The host's cells go on to use their own machinery to produce copies of the virus. Tens of thousands of copies may result. This is called viral burst size

Then, the cell dies. 
Is there a better definition of diabolical? 

And it isn't even alive. It's just a little package of genetic material a package that is "smarter" than the human beings it has been parasitizing for all of human history. 

We have conquered Earth, from pole to pole, from jungle to desert, from Everest to Death Valley; tigers have devolved from the fearsome enemies that snatch our children to characters in a Netflix miniseries; we have landed on the moon, and we can't lay a glove on the common cold, something that isn't even alive. 

They say that the word "virus" comes from the Latin for "poison." Poison makes sense. Poison is not alive, but it kills us. But poison doesn't manipulate us to aid its deadly mission. Poison doesn't lure us into touching our eyes and nose with our hands, thus increasing the chance that the poison will go on to hurt others. 

They also say that no one knows for sure how viruses came to be.

Viruses look, to me, like life itself in its ugliest form. No driver, no intention, no telos, all destruction. And I don't know how to understand that without looking at life in a much darker way. And without looking at the author of life in a much more questioning way. 

Viruses cause me to look again at the life that entrances me. I look at birds in all their wonder and can't not believe in God. I confront viruses and I really wonder. God, was if you who created life after all? As described in Genesis, even if that is just a poetic account of deeper truths?

Or was it just blind chance after all? 

Life just seems like an ugly accident. Something that reproduces stupidly and blindly. What could be more blind or stupid than a motive-less package of genetic information penetrating a cell only to kill that cell? What could be more blind or stupid than the cell obeying its murderer's orders? 

Humanity is so naked and helpless in the face of viruses. Why? Why haven't we studied them more, rather than spending money on the space program? 

Why can't we communicate with our cells, and tell them, "No, this invader is bad. Don't let it in." 

We do. We have vaccines, and they are wonderful, and their development includes wonderful stories. Jonas Salk, for example, who developed a polio vaccine, has a well-deserved reputation as a real hero. Louis Pasteur is another world-famous hero in the war against viruses and disease. And the list of heroes grows everyday, in the martyred police officers, nurses, doctors, aides, and other health care professionals, family members, and other helpers  who are giving their lives to the fight against the coronavirus. 

I have to get back to work, so I must tie this up.

Heroes aside, I am face to face with a virus. It looks like life as one big result of the chance collision of molecules, not as the magnificent handiwork of a benign creator. 

I'm hoping and praying that a believing Christian or Jew who understands something about viruses will read this and get back to me. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Fifth Anniversary

Before I published God through Binoculars, I sent it to various authors, some of them bestselling and prize-wining authors, and asked for blurbs.

They sent blurbs praising the book. Their praise gave me hope that this would be the book that would finally reach an audience.

And it didn't. I spent a month, full time, eight-hour days, six-day weeks, emailing, writing, calling, and no one would review it. Well, I got a handful of reviews, but not enough to create sales, and the book has pretty much died on the vine.

That's a pretty heavy silencing and erasure. You just don't want to talk after a life event like that.

I'm old. I've been doing this for a long time. I don't see the point of doing it any more.

My writing just doesn't reach people, and, at this point, knowing that I am closer to the grave than the cradle of new beginnings, I don't much care.

There's something to be said for not much caring. You suddenly realize what makes old women so brave. We have no value in society, so we have nothing to lose, and we have no time for BS. We speak truths no one else wants to speak.

And there's no one left. She had kids, and a husband, but they don't talk to me. I have one sibling left alive, and he doesn't talk to me, either.

It's a horrible feeling when everyone you are related to dies. Solitary confinement, catastrophe survivor, the last living speaker of a dead language, one foot in the grave … I could go on all day with the metaphors.

There is so much in my head that no one would understand or care about.

So why bother talking. And yes the appropriate punctuation to end that sentence with is a period, not a question mark.

Why bother talking about anything, from world peace to this fifth anniversary.

You know, as I type all this, I'm finding it's much harder to talk about not talking than it is to talk.

As I saw the anniversary approaching, I thought, will I do anything? Will I mention it? And I thought, nah.

But then this morning, on WQXR, Jeff Spurgeon, the velvet-voiced, suave and charming morning DJ, mentioned, not once but several times, that today is Siblings Day.  

You do notice when one of your siblings dies while you are rubbing the soles of her feet, and she dies on Siblings Day, especially if you've had two siblings die already, one at 23 on your birthday, the other at 34.

So, I thought, let me at least try to come up with something to say on the blog.

And I find that I don't really have much of anything to say.

So I'll just repost this. It's a Facebook post from a couple of weeks ago.


Antoinette was very into current events, and also into science.

I'm a current events junkie, and I like science stories, but not as much as Antoinette did. She understood more than I do; she did not have my cognitive handicaps.

When the coronavirus story began to break, I thought, "I wish Antoinette were here. She would have been all over this like white on rice."

Years ago, when she was in nursing school and I was a kid, she was the one who taught me, emphatically, "Do not touch your face with your hands. Don't touch your eyes. Use a tissue. A clean tissue."

If she were here, she would read about coronavirus, and develop theories as to which treatments would prove beneficial, and make predictions -- which would usually turn out to be correct -- and have all kinds of backstage gossip about how her hospital, which announces itself as having been designated one of the fifty best hospitals in America, is handling the crisis.

A day or two into the crisis, I suddenly felt her presence, and also the presence of my mother.

I would just be in the kitchen making dinner, or taking a bath, and -- I felt their presence. Both my mother and my sister.

How to describe this sensation. How about this. Even if you closed your eyes, and stopped up your ears, and held your nose, you might feel someone in the room with you. I don't know how that works.

also, that sense that someone is in the room with you has a signature on it. It has a vibration. This is only Antoinette. Not a vague sense of presence, but a sense of her identity, her essence.

You don't see anything or hear anything, she's just *there.*

You feel it with some antennae that isn't part of the standard five senses. It's not your nose and her aroma; it's not your ears and her voice; it's not your eyes and her outline; it's not your fingers and her distinctive flesh.

It's her unique essence, what her soul does to space, and you register that with some sense you can't name.

Evidently I can't describe this at all.

I got the sense that Antoinette and my mother were eavesdropping on the crisis, and maybe sticking around to reassure me of something.

Mind -- my relationship with both these women was imperfect. In the physical world, they were both as likely to terrify me as reassure me. and I did not "summon.' them. I was not yearning for them. I was not missing them. so, no, my imagination did not conjure this up.

Then, one night, I woke up -- probably in a dream -- and there was Antoinette, lying next to me, her big, substantive body, earthbound and earth mother shaped. We used to share the same bed when we were growing up.

I said, in a very matter of fact way, "Antoinette, when did you arrive? When I went to bed you were not here."

And she said, equally matter of factly, "I got in at three."

The sense of their presence lasted about three days, and then ended. Haven't sensed them since, and as I write this, I can't re-feel that feeling. It is gone.


The blog post from five years ago, that I wrote the day she died, is here.

Grateful to the Polish American Journal for Covering God through Binoculars