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Retreating from coronavirus could be beneficial

Things are in a pretty bad way when the governor of Nevada suspends all state gambling.

That’s a shutdown about as serious as closing schools and libraries, shutting bars, restaurants and movie theaters, and sealing borders.

In this near-hysterical climate, brought on by fears that the COVID-19 virus could kill upwards of 2 million people worldwide, oxymorons abound. Political policy. Medical intelligence. Federal assistance. And, of course, social distancing.

Albert Camus’ novel, “The Plague,” published in 1947, describes a similar pandemic striking the Algerian city, Oran. Among its characters are a doctor who works tirelessly to combat the disease out of professional commitment, a private citizen who organizes people on a grass-roots level to fight the plague, a cynical journalist who attempts to escape the barricaded city, a priest who claims the plague has been sent by God to test the faith of the Oran citizens, and a rootless man who attempts suicide and later shoots at pedestrians from his apartment window. We can readily find people with similar impulses in our nation. As the death toll climbs, the novel traces the mood of the city on a downward path of despair. But after six months, the plague has run its course and life begins to return to a normal state.

For us, a normal state may take longer. Health authorities warn that a vaccine for COVID-19 won’t be available until a year from now, at the earliest. The medical thinking for us to follow is simple. If you don’t have coronavirus now, stay inside your home and you won’t get it. If you do have coronavirus now, stay inside your home and no one else will get it. Despair is definitely a danger for us, especially for those of us losing income, losing jobs, losing child care.

In this state of affairs, with the economy crashing, businesses and industries shuttering, and everyone hunkering down, people show themselves as at their best and at their worst. What can be more heroic than treating victims of coronavirus? What can be more ridiculous than fighting over rolls of toilet paper?

It helps to retain a sense of humor. A friend of mine, Lisa Alberico, posted on Facebook

“25 Ways Coronavirus Doesn’t Suck.” My three favorites are “The climate will get a temporary reprieve with fewer commuters spewing pollution since they’ll work from home,” “Our cats and dogs, who constantly wish that we’d stay home more, finally get their way,” and “Although drinking alone is usually considered a sad state of affairs and a slippery slope toward alcoholism, for a short time, solo drinking will fall into the category of political correctness.”

The terms used for what measures we should take — “confinement,” “self-quarantine” and “social distancing” — are too nasty for me. I’ve considered several others. “Hiatus” might work. It is defined as an interruption in time or continuity. “Sabbatical” could be appropriate. It is defined as a leave of absence during which one secures rest and rejuvenation. But maybe the best word is “retreat.”

The word means, first of all, escaping an overwhelming danger to a place of refuge and seclusion. But it also has a religious meaning: leaving our normal routines to devote ourselves to reflection, meditation and prayer. Maybe this is another way that coronavirus doesn’t suck. We have been relieved of our regular responsibilities. No meetings, no social obligations, no commerce of any kind. We are free to assess our lives without distraction. Maybe after we are through cleaning out every closet and have learned the three chords we need to know to play the ukulele, we can consider more meaningful questions that we never had time before to think about.

Dennis Read lives in Ashland.