May 25, 2020
It was late December when I started seeing regular feeds about a pandemic that was brewing up in central China. It was one of those large Chinese cities that few seem to know anything about: Wuhan. Today? Today it is one of the most well known landmarks on the globe. Wuhan will come to symbolize many things, but at that moment in January it presented that which is obscure in our world to be central to our well-being, our civilization and ultimately our lives. What was once a place unknown had produced a disease that could only be described at that time as “unknowable.”
I tend to be well-read but my reading material is just about anything but mainstream media. Part of that library are news sources that focus on China: NTD, Epoch Times, China Uncensored, ABC (Australia) and Bloomberg. As the news emerged about what would be eventually be tagged as COVID-19, the series of events seemed strangely similar to SARS, bird flu and a string of other maladies that evolve from the Orient. As a frequent consumer of Canadian news, I was very much aware of the impact that SARS had made with Canadians. But SARS seemed to elude the United States by some stroke of Providence.
My attention was certainly garnered when I saw bulldozers and cranes appearing in Wuhan constructing a hospital in days to deal with what was undoubtedly a pandemic. China was beginning to lock down the city and parts of the country. The first reported case in the state of Washington was alarming to us in Juneau since just about everyone has ventured through the Seattle airport at one time or another. The city of 30,000 receiving a half dozen packed flights a day from Seattle was quickly on alert over the virus.
The virus quickly spread throughout the most well-traveled parts of the globe. With a daughter residing in Brooklyn, the news from New York City was a daily concern. The office I worked at began to transition into a full scale telework scenario, albeit in gradual steps as we responded to each emerging piece of information.
Throughout the entire time to this moment as I type, the word “unknowable” is first in mind. It is what makes this a great moment in the history of our world, it is what reminds us we are mortals, it informs us that our hatreds and prejudices need to be set aside to focus on a more important mission. It should continually remind us to be humble.
Even to this day, despite the unprecedented investment in resources and people, “unknowable” seems to win the day. I saw a presentation yesterday on YouTube of the multiple mutations of the virus and how they have been able to trace how each moved across the globe. There are now dozens of treatments and clinical trials circling the planet endeavoring to seek a cure. But at this moment, there are only probabilities and possibilities.
“Unknowable” is also something we should not forget when we measure the leadership we have received since January. Politics in the U.S. in the past two weeks appears to be sinking into the same acid intercourse of accusations and name-calling. But for four months our country was facing a challenge that made our petty political differences fade into the background. It was strange, yet quite commendable, that leaders around the world and particularly in the U.S. acted like adults, putting into motion the measures that would make the battle against COVID-19 winnable (at least at this moment).
Their actions, remember, was in response to what was an “unknown” phenomena. A virus, yes. But that’s all they knew. Most governments have, or should have, contingency plans in place to respond to disasters. And it appears that they were put into motion progressively across the country as that which was unknown had ever clearer effects on the health of our people and medical facilities. Seattle and New York City had to take the lead as these two international hubs were the first to have to cope with the flood of seriously ill people that overwhelmed emergencies rooms and hospitals. Suddenly, “Medicare for All” seemed to be a living reality as we at least knew one thing – a person ill with COVID-19 needed treatment, not just for their health, but for all of us.
Unknowable – a country that was the engine of the world economy, with 20% of its work force suddenly out of work, not gradually over months of an economic slowdown, but as if a nuclear bomb landed on one of our cities. Who would ever think a day would come when our ball parks would be empty, our beaches barren, Las Vegas darkened. Yet this unknowable history was unveiling before us a crisis no one had ever expected on Christmas Day in 2019.
As we proceed through the summer we will continue to experience the unknowable. As an act of “faith”, what the Bible calls the “conviction of things unseen, the assurance of all things hoped for,” our governments are opening up the economy. The consequences? We will wait and see, like a colossal mass clinical trial that will prove once and for all whether we over-reacted or not.
We are moving into uncharted seas. This is an exciting time to live – if you are granted such a privilege. We will see COVID-19 central to our lives for months to come. By August we will know if we can move forward as before, or incrementally adapt to the risks we learn more about. But as we assess the people in leadership on whether they were effective or not in their response, we need to be humble. We need to remember that they reacted to an unknowable threat and the response was consistent across-the-board and non-partisan. You can’t ignore facts, and there is nothing as factual as death. We are blessed in the U.S., and this applies to other nations, with highly capable people with amazing technology. We live in an amazing world during amazing times.
But I write this to people who live. We need to be humble, knowing that tomorrow we may certainly die. This is my first journal entry. Will I live to see the end of this thing? Will anyone that is near to me be affected? Our world is going to change considerably. No doubt about that. But as of this moment, what will befall us is unknowable.
By Eric Niewoehner
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