The End of the End of the World

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece about something my dad liked to say when we made too big a deal of something gone wrong. He’d say Koniec świata, that’s Polish for the world is ending. He didn’t mean it, of course. He was just trying to put things in perspective.

I have had to keep reminding myself of this repeatedly during this pandemic. I have been living in a self-quarantined state for the last five months, with no actual physical contact with anyone outside my immediate family. It’s as if the world has gone away, disappeared, leaving nothing but the house we are living in and the treed yard surrounding that house. I find myself staring out the windows trying to see if there is anything, any person, beyond the trees. Usually, I see no one, hear no one. It’s almost like we’re living in a wilderness surrounded by nothing but forests.

The news reports aren’t very encouraging either. Of course, there are some people who say that all this social distancing and quarantining and dying within this pandemic will soon come to an end. But those people who say this tend to be in the minority. The scientists and the doctors and the responsible civic leaders are saying the pandemic will not end soon, and they are also saying that there is a good chance that if it does go away in the immediate future, it will come back in the fall when the flu season starts up again.

None of this kind of talk makes me happy. The thought of all of this going on for months and then starting up for another round of pandemics makes me shake my head, makes me wonder if it will ever stop. Will the world ever again become the world that it was before all this Covid-19 started? Will the end of the world ever end?

If we can trust history, we can find some hope. Even the most malicious, most contagious, most virulent pandemic of all time, the Black Death of the 14th century, came to an end. After killing about 40% of the people in the world, the plague stopped, and after it stopped the world quickly became a better, safer, happier place. The number of marriages rose substantially, the rate of births rose too, the salaries made by workers went up, people had more opportunities than they ever had before. Everything in fact suddenly was better, brighter.

I tend to be more pessimistic than optimistic, but I’ve decided this time, with this pandemic, to let my optimism shine a little more brightly. After all, hope is our mother.

The End of the World

My father used to say, “It’s the end of the world,” all the time as a joke. He had seen the world end once before with his own eyes. He had been in Buchenwald concentration camp for 4 years during World War II. There he had seen his friends crucified, hanged, starved, beaten, and frozen to death. After the war, he had spent 6 years in a refugee camp in Germany, waiting for some country to welcome him and our family in.

And still he joked that the world was ending. Whenever anybody complained about anything, he’d start in joking about how it was the end of the world.

As a kid, if I lost my favorite cats-eye marble or my oldest baseball, I’d get teary-eyed. And that’s when my dad would start in. He would shake his head, put on a pretend frown, and say in Polish, “Koniec świata.”

The world is ending.

What could I do with the sorrow I felt? I shrugged like he did and said the same thing he said, “Koniec świata.”
I’d say that and move on to the next bit of life I needed to live even if I couldn’t find my favorite marble or that special baseball.

Sometimes while watching the stuff about the coronavirus pandemic on the news, I feel like I’m hearing over and over that our world is ending. In fact, journalists and commentators and even politicians are actually saying this. They’re saying that the world we now know and live in is coming to an end and it will never ever be the same, not in our lifetime or the lifetimes of our kids and our grandkids.

Is the world ending?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that I took a walk this morning with my granddaughter Lulu. It sure didn’t feel like the world was ending. The spring sun was there, brighter and warmer than it’s been in months, and I heard sparrows and finches chattering about what they were eating. Up the street, four kids were balancing themselves on a curb and seeing who could walk the longest without falling. A moment later, a mother and her toddler walked past us on the other side of the street. The mom was holding her daughter’s hand, and her daughter was pointing at some yellow flowers that had just started blooming.

Koniec świata?

140th Day in Quarantine

It’s been raining for about 80 days.  I look out my window and see the gray wetness on the street, on the leaves on the trees, on my car sitting parked in the driveway.  The sky is gray too.  The only blue I see is in the shirt I wear most days and the cup I put my coffee in.  It’s spring and soon it will be summer, but all I can do is sit here waiting for the rain to stop falling.  I can’t mow, can’t walk in my garden, can’t sit on the back porch and drink wine.  The sun has left and gone to some other part of the solar system. 

My 11-year-old granddaughter who lives with us is tired of the rain too.  She’s built herself a fortress in the rec room downstairs out of some old card tables and blankets.  Days, she sits in her fortress and plays with her stuffed animals or reads to them from a Harry Potter book.  Nights, she tries to sleep down there.  She’s put a sleeping bag on the floor of the rec room and lies down. Lying there, she can hear the rain falling outside.  A lot of nights, it keeps her awake. She pulls her stuffed animals closer and prays for it to stop.  It doesn’t.

My daughter, her mom, pretends she doesn’t hear the rain.  Most days and evenings, she’s on her computer, zooming with the people she works with.  They talk about the work they have to do now because the rain is falling and falling. Like my daughter, they pretend they don’t hear the rain either, but I know they do.  I can see it in the way they lean into their laptops for their zooms.  Sometimes, my daughter or one of her co-workers will laugh about something, but I know they’re just laughing to cover up the sound of the rain falling against the windows.

My wife hears the rain too.  She knows it’s been falling for as long as it’s been falling, but she’s not like me.  She thinks it will stop falling someday.  Maybe not soon, but someday.  Someday it will stop.  She’s planning for that day.  She sits in her easy chair with her laptop looking for vacations to the beaches in Virginia and North Carolina, cruises to the Bahamas, and weekends in New York City. She’s waiting for the day the rain stops, and she can drive up to Connecticut to bring her parents back here to visit.  She knows the rain has been falling there too. 

Picture (collage): Susanne Swanson-Bernard (USA)

Music: Lori Bell (USA)

Essays: John Guzlowski (USA)

Pictures (masks): Dean Pasch (Germany)

Susanne writes about her picture ‘Quarantined’

This collage speaks to me about the importance of pulling together in these uncertain times. It is also a statement of how small we are in the face of this Pandemic.

Lori writes about her music ‘Uncertainty’

The virus has turned our world upside down. We are scared, baffled, and uncertain.


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