Sick Day

I have no fever. I can smell the barbecue wafting through the summer air. I don’t feel weak. My brain is okay–to the point that I can think and reason and ask those pesky little questions like “why do people catch colds?” whenever I’m not coughing, sneezing or blowing my nose.

I have a cold. An ordinary, run-of-the-mill, nothing special, nothing to worry about–cold.

Each of the four times I took a Covid test, the results were negative. I saw a doctor. The doctor told me I had a virus that wasn’t Covid, and that the virus had to run its course, but I could probably use a prescription cough suppressant and a Z-Pack. Z-Packs are antibiotics. I’ve been told antibiotics are useless against viruses but I figured if this was one more bomb I could drop on the bug, bombs away!

Before I felt the peculiar, though all-too-familiar scratchiness in the back of my throat, I used to say that one good thing about the pandemic for me was that I didn’t get any kind of respiratory ailment for three years. I congratulated myself on all those times I washed my hands, wore a mask in public, and stayed out of places where people who weren’t wearing masks like to shout, laugh and drink too much.

The name for this kind of self-congratulatory behavior is hubris. We learned in high school and college that the few surviving classical Greek tragedies considered this naive, egotistical pride in doing the right thing to be a blasphemy, because the gods control what happens, what things are right or wrong, and who gets what, and the best we can do is learn to live with whatever they dish out.

You also get this in the Biblical Book of Job, in which Satan makes a bet with God that a happy, respectable, morally righteous human male could not be driven to despair by unreasonably calamity.

Is it hubris that makes an emotionally shattered Job ask why God had to pick on him? God replies, “Where were you when I made the world?” and then restores much of what Job lost.

The moral of the story has always been a problem for me. True believers say the story means God can put back whatever you feel is taken away, and that hardship in this world is but a test for your worthiness of paradise in the next. Do the right thing today and you’ll accrue blessings, happiness and bliss tomorrow.

I find that a bit difficult to believe. A few years ago I went on a drive through what was Coal Country. These people lived in one of the planet’s most beautiful places, but every bend in the road revealed more tumbled down homes, ruined Main Streets, factories and railroad yards that would never hear the sound of prosperity again.

And yet, every church I passed was in immaculate condition and tip-top shape. I imagined so many suffering people hoping to be like Job, and have their lives restored by the kind of power that parts waters and brings light into being.

You either have to presume a Greek Stoicism that the best you can do is suffer without blowing your cool, that human morality has no consequence, that wearing a mask, washing your hands, practicing social distancing, getting your shot, getting your second shot, getting your third shot, getting your fourth shot and otherwise being good will not protect you, or–

When you hear Satan and God making a bet–run!

Like Albert Einstein, I like to believe God doesn’t play dice. But then again, what does God do with this world He made? If you ask politely, will He tinker with Creation so you can find an open parking space on a crowded city street that otherwise would not exist? Will He make sure that the right college accepts your teenager? Will He favor your sports team, your political party, your family, your friends in contests where only one side can win?

Or will He permit what seems to have happened for me: let me wrestle with a virus that isn’t fatal or permanently debilitating, in a setting that is comfortable, safe, secure, surrounded by pharmacists, doctors, neighbors who wave hello to me when I wave at them, supermarkets that have been able to cope reasonably well with the shortages and price increases, laundry machines that cleanse and disinfect so many soggy handkerchiefs, dogs who slumber at my feet, a wife who loves me and…

More blessings to count, than I’ve counted recently.

So I take a Sick Day, when all I can do (and just about all I’m capable of doing) is to be grateful that I can let myself heal. Whether my cold is an act of the gods intended to punish my pandemic hubris, or just a thing that happened, doesn’t matter as much as my ability to say thank you, to the dog that slumbers at my feet, the whispering breeze that moves my window curtain, and the fact that I am not alone.