Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Precipice and the Virus

The fear you feel in high places isn't really about the danger. The fear's palpable even if the danger's removed; by, for example, installing a barrier. It's your own inclinations that you're afraid of.

It’s not the fear of jumping intentionally, with kamikaze exuberance. It’s the sudden gulping recognition that your error margin - your grey area of uncertainty - encompasses "death plunge". A scenario is imaginable where...whoops.

The fear stems from the unholy juxtaposition of trivial/comical "whoops" and oblivion. The two are so disparate that they can't be framed simultaneously. We must flip back and forth, like with the alternate perspectives of an optical illusion. Whoops....Oblivion. Whoops....Oblivion. The flipping is what causes the vertigo. The most daunting precipice isn't the one between current position and prospective destination. Far steeper is the distance between "Whoops" and "Oblivion". That's the truly nauseating drop-off.

I have a perennially self-defeating and neurotic older friend who hasn't left his apartment since March. Hasn't seen a human being, hasn't breathed fresh air. He will not converse through the window when I deliver his groceries. His windows remain firmly shut.

He doesn't own a mask because he's not going outside - perhaps ever. He doesn't follow the guidelines, because he's uninterested in skirting the edge between safety and danger. He'll remain far, far back, in safety, thank you very much. Even if it kills him.

At first I assumed he felt like he was being extra safe. But after consideration, that's not it.

I tried encouraging him (via phone) to put on a mask and enjoy a nice walk down his breezy, deserted suburban street. But as he ranted - citing opinions from the television (dodgy to begin with) that he'd misheard, misremembered, and misapplied, about persistent viral clouds and uncertain modes of transmission - I glimpsed the actual precipice. It wasn’t the virus he was afraid of. A perfect clarity settled in. I could envision the truth as clearly as if I were the Oracle of freaking Delphi.

If he did finally go out, he'd do so in the fraught state of shaky failure he reserves for urgent circumstances. His nose would stick out from his mask, if there were any mask at all. He'd walk, inexorably and hopelessly, toward the sneezes. He'd touch only things lots of other people had touched. And, returning home in a state of mindless agitation, he'd find a way to 1. not wash his hands, and 2. touch his face. Whoops...oblivion.

My urgings were wrong-headed. He unconsciously senses his fraught self mismanagement, and that’s what keeps him - appropriately, I suppose - indoors. His choice is to either retract to the opposite end of the universe from the danger (putting himself in converse peril), or else self-immolation. Simply going about his business is unthinkable.

I know what you're thinking. "Huh. Crazy people. What are you gonna do?" But consider this: how many of us can stand with our toes against the ledge of a 10,000 foot drop-off while remaining calmly normal?

Also factor in this scenario, if you can (it's a tale about reaching for the comically/tragically wrong tool in the face of danger).

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