Woster: Weathering the storm and this pandemic
The river outside my office window is angry today, worked into a foamy frenzy by a relentless northwest wind that rattles the screens as I write.
I’m composing this on Thursday, to make sure I’m well ahead of the newspaper’s deadline. I should stay on task, but I leave the keyboard to stand at the window and watch Nature play tricks with the calendar. Spring? Yes, but such a fickle start to the season. From well above normal 70 degrees with barely a breath of breeze a couple of days ago to this wind-whipped day with a smoke-colored sky and a temperature in the mid-30s takes some adjusting. The cargo shorts and sandals I pulled from a bottom drawer the other day seem a most ridiculously optimistic notion just now.
The surface of the river dances with white-capped waves. Toward the far shore, the tops of waves resemble a flock of gulls on water as gray-black as the barrel of my dad’s old 12-gauge. Nearer my window the waves become long, deep, mud-colored rollers, rather like those I saw when the family traveled to the Oregon coast decades ago. Unlike those ocean rollers that spilled their foaming curls onto a pebbled sand beach, these river waves crash against the discolored pink rocks that line the steep bank.
I know I should return to the writing, but the wind and waves are mesmerizing. As I watch, the branches of the huge old cottonwood that guards the shore bend and twist, somehow not breaking despite the gale. The branches of a pine tree next to the driveway rise and fall with no pattern, and the wind rips from one branch a dark-brown cone that skitters across the gravel road and buries itself in a clump of last year’s weeds.
The scene from my office window is a forceful reminder of how little control I really have over my world. Try as I will, wish as I may, I can’t turn off the wind or flatten the unruly waves. I can’t so much as hold a single pine cone on a wind-tossed tree branch. The inventions and advances of the modern world have given us humans many things. Nothing man has created has given us control over the natural world. Sometimes we think we’re in charge. Then a cold front moves through, the wind kicks up and we’re left to simply ride it out, waiting for more agreeable days.
That’s what many of us have been doing in this time of COVID-19, just riding it out, waiting for more agreeable days. Modern medicine has given us so many life-saving and life-advancing things, so many vaccinations against and treatments for all manner of plague and pestilence. We become accustomed to having an answer for every question, a cure for every sickness. When something new comes along, it takes time to adjust, time to remember we aren’t really in control.
Our powerlessness in the face of this new virus is evident as Easter weekend arrives. Church services and family dinners and Easter-egg hunts for the kids won’t happen for most of us this year, not in any normal way. A deadly virus is loose in the land. Intelligent, dedicated men and women are desperately seeking a treatment or a vaccine as the rest of us shelter impatiently in place, avoiding physical contact and unnecessary trips, watching the progress of the disease much the way I watch the wind and the waves from behind the safety of my office window.
Easter is a special time for many of us. The Easter story, whether you’re a believer or not, is at its foundation one of sacrifice and redemption, concepts worthy of contemplation. Certainly, we see much sacrifice around us these days.
Because my mom always recommended counting my blessings, I end with this: Medicine may not have solved the COVID-19 mystery yet, but science has provided all manner of ways to communicate. We can see each other’s faces as we talk. Entire families scattered across the country can gather through computer screen links. That’s pretty amazing, and it keeps us together.
We may be separated. We are not alone.