Which Do You Want First, the Good News or the Bad?
No, I'm not talking to YOU. The greeting on this post is from an email I received shortly after the indispensable Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that it's the elderly—people in their 60s, 70s and 80s—who are most at risk for serious illness and death due to COVID-19.
The email was from a college buddy who lives in Greenwich Village. Back in the day, I knew him by nicknames that no longer apply, most of which referred to his Beatle-esque mop of brow-covering red hair. A fine mane if ever a mane there was. His appearance has changed over the years (bye-bye boyish bangs), but his curmudgeonly sense of humor has not abandoned him altogether. Not even after a worthy career on the frontlines of education. "I hope you survive the plague," he wrote. And with that his email came to an end.
Although it's always good to hear from college pals, I was surprised to find myself on the distribution list for such a message. After all, I'm not elderly. How could I be? I look in the mirror and see a man in the prime of life. Which I suppose is exactly how the subjects of Tom Hussey's famous "Reflections" see themselves. That's the photography series where people of advanced years gaze into a looking-glass seeing only younger versions staring back. But surely I'm different from those folks. I really am in my prime, even though I have passed Miss Jean Brodie chronologically
Nevertheless, I trust Dr. Fauci more than anyone on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. And it turns out that I really do fall within the purview of COVID-19's hit list. Dr. Fauci is 79 years old and runs 3.5 miles a day. Proof enough that age is just a number. Unfortunately, the coronavirus is a poor mathematician. It slices and dices at will. And it does not discriminate.
It's not as if you can challenge COVID-19 to a chess match like the late Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal. This sucker don't play no games.
That's the bad news. ..
But Wait...There's Good News Too
As you have probably witnessed by now, the human race has begun to look a lot more humane lately. Not that "cancel culture" or silo mentality have disappeared entirely. Haters still gonna hate. The cultural divide still exists. But those things are not Numero Uno right now.
As a speaker on BBC Radio London said recently: "Yes there is fear, but there does not have to be hate. Yes, there is isolation, but there does not have to be loneliness. Yes, there is sickness, but there does not have to be a disease of the soul." He noted that churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples are preparing to shelter the homeless, sick and weary. "All over the world, people are slowing down and reflecting. All over the world, people are beginning to look at their neighbors in a new way."
I'm not channeling Voltaire's stupidly optimistic Dr. Pangloss here. To get through this crisis, those in power must deliver the critical supplies we've all been hearing about: testing kits, face masks, ventilators, personal protection equipment for front-line health care workers, and a workable plan to supply hospital beds should the pandemic require more than the current inventory. We have a right to expect these things from government, and our governments have a moral and ethical responsibility to provide them.
With that process underway (we hope), more and more folks have begun to realize we're not primarily Red or Blue, Democrat or Republican, gay or straight, or any of the many-hued races peopling the planet. We are one people, under attack all over the world, and now we know for sure that the only way we're going to survive is by "sticking together apart." You know, social distancing.
One of the best examples I've seen of this comes from the Chino Hills High School Chamber Singers. When their concert was canceled, they held the performance anyway, online in a virtual presentation. Their achievement reminded me of something Illusions author Richard Bach wrote years ago in his follow-up to Jonathan Livingston Seagull. "We choose our problems for the gifts they bring."
These students weren't alive when Bach wrote those words, but their determination to hold their concert anyway revealed one of the gifts from this pandemic. They showed us that technology can be just as effective bringing us together as in tearing us apart. And they couldn't have picked a better song than "Somewhere over the Rainbow" to do it.
"Somewhere over the Rainbow"
We've seen technology used like this before, most notably 10 years ago when Eric Whitacre put together a virtual choir featuring 185 young voices from 12 countries mixed into 243 tracks. That's the equivalent of a 2,000-voice choir. One year later, Whitacre described the accomplishment during a TED Talk. It's a 14-minute session, but if you just want to hear the astonishing six-minute performance of "Lux Arumque," it's embedded below. My point here is this: ten years ago, Whitacre's virtual concert was little more than a gee-whiz experiment. Today, it's a necessity.
Eric Whitaker's Virtual Choir, "Lux Arumque"
Rotterdam & Toronto Take up the Challenge
You can always count on young people to find clever answers to old problems. Take Little Johnny, for instance, who was once asked by his teacher to use the word Rotterdam in a sentence. The little fellow thought hard for a moment, then gave the best answer he could think of: "My sister ate up all my Halloween candy, and I hope it rot her damn teeth out."
Little Johnny notwithstanding, Rotterdam is known for being an especially hip, artistic city with a trendy nightlife, great museums, and a fresh-faced skyline brimming with modern architecture. As of March 20th, however, the city got even hipper when the Rotterdam Philharmonic teamed up with a Dutch healthcare provider to create a stunning video of separately located musicians playing the finale from Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the part everyone knows as the "Ode to Joy."
Rotterdam's Virtual "Ode to Joy"
Two days later and just in time for the Vernal Equinox, musicians of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra delivered a virtual performance of Aaron Copeland's "Appalachian Spring."
Toronto's Appalachian Spring
I think it was Schopenhauer who wrote that all the arts aspire to the condition of music. Perhaps he meant that no other art form moves so freely past the boundaries of space and time the way music does. It's a free-flowing pathway to the higher self, our better angels, the ethereal metaphysical dimension. On Twitter, Steve Martin plays his banjo for 45 seconds, and people step back from the daily tweet storms to listen. The same with John Legend, Yo-Yo Ma, and many more. Meanwhile, Stingray Qello, a paid streaming service that provides full concerts in every genre, announced last week that it's offering its entire catalog free for the next 30 days. And you don't even need a credit card to sign in.
What we're seeing here is the same spirit we found in Italy when people all over that country responded to the lockdown by serenading each other from high-rise buildings. We're all betting on what we know in our hearts to be true. Music is even more infectious than COVID-19. It reminds us of who we really are. It puts us on notice that the human spirit will not only survive this pandemic, it will prevail.
That's what I call really good news.
Laurel & Hardy
But if, in the meantime, it turns out that the sky still seems a little gray in the midst of statewide lockdowns and self-quarantines, maybe we can add one more thing to our music regimen. A little humor. Like this silly but uplifting dance number from Laurel and Hardey's 1937 film, Way out West.
Let's all keep our collective chins up. We can do this. And we will.
Further Reading for Elderly Bastards Who Want to Stay Fit during Self-Isolation
See this article by writer Helen Page, a self-described 80-year old Badass, who co-authored two low-cholesterol cookbooks and helped develop the "three-spoons concept" for tracking calories, fat, and sodium at Stanford University's Faculty Dining Room.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
If you’re reading this website, think of me as a troubadour standing on the street corner, strumming a guitar and singing a few songs. Not everyone who comes this way is able to make contribution. But if you’re one of the passers-by who can, then feel free to drop a little spare change in my hat by clicking either the Donate or the Become a Patron button below.