SUBSCRIBE NOW
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.

DAVID MURDOCK COLUMN: On my pandemic diary

David Murdock
Special to The Times
The Gadsden Times

Recently glancing back through my journal for the year, something sort of strange popped out: I haven’t mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic all that much. When I do, it’s obviously with an implied understanding of what’s been happening. I have no idea who might read my journal in the future — probably no one at all but me — but I try to be clear as to what I’m talking about. After all, I have been occasionally confused as to what I was talking about on first glance, having to ponder a bit before I knew what I was getting at during some specific time.

However, anyone reading the journal would notice a shift about four months ago — most notably that I stopped talking so much about places I’ve been and started talking a lot more about books I’ve read or movies I’ve watched. Sometimes, I’ve gone into exacting detail about a particular aspect of them.

There are increasing mentions of what’s happening in the skies — descriptions of clouds and storms and stars. There is a longish entry last week about my unsuccessful attempts to get a glance at Comet NEOWISE, the “new” comet that’s been visible — supposedly to the naked eye — since early July. Every time I’ve tried, the sky has been overcast enough to prevent my seeing it clearly.

There are also increasingly detailed descriptions of the wildlife in my yard. For example, I wrote more than a page not long back about a slug. Seriously! A slug! In my defense, it was one giant slug, truly noteworthy anytime, but I did sit and watch that slug for a long time, long enough that I have a pretty good idea of how much ground a big slug can cover in a quarter hour. I even watched it eat a leaf, which was absolutely mesmerizing. Then I spent another quarter hour on the internet trying to figure out the exact species.

So, there are lots of descriptions of “long views” in the skies and “close views” on the ground. What’s truly lacking is a “middle view” — those events happening around me, not above or below me.

So far, for example, I’ve found no mention in my journal about the recent trend of toppling statues across the country. I’ve read a lot about the subject lately, but more about statue-toppling in the past rather than the present. The toppling of statues is not a recent thing; it’s happened throughout much of the history of Western civilization. Many times, the practice involves social disruption, like the toppling of the statue of Venus in Siena, Italy in 1357, just a few years after the bubonic plague had killed a large proportion of the city’s population. The odd thing is that I hadn’t set out to read about the destruction of statues in the past. The subject has been part of a book I’m reading on the history of Christianity.

And that’s the thing, I think. It’s not so much that I’m not journaling about recent events in America — the “middle view” — as I’m journaling about long views and close views that I’ve never before noticed in such detail. After all, the pandemic and everything that has happened during it has refocused our attention in ways we could never have anticipated, even just a year ago. After all, to use a small and convenient example, Comet NEOWISE was discovered on March 27, 2020. For all its prominence in the “astronomy media” right now, we simply didn’t know it existed before then. That’s a small thing, but who could have predicted any of the events of 2020 in July of 2019?

That has caught my attention. I’m amazed at how much I’m reading books and watching movies in terms of the events of now rather than in terms of the times they were produced. I’ve been on some weird “book kicks” lately — for example, an interest in presidential biographies I’ve never had — and I’m reading in terms of the politics of 2020. The old movies I’ve watched lately make me cringe that they’re not “social distancing.”

This shift in journal subjects also examples something I’ve long known: A habit is easy to fall into and difficult to climb out of. Most of the time, we’re not even aware that we’ve fallen into a “habit hole.” Desperately, I suppose, I’m trying not to fall into the habit hole of despair. With so much tragedy in the middle view of things, I’ve intuitively focused on the long views and close views to avoid it. I just didn’t realize what I was doing.

That explains my book kicks (like classics of Japanese literature) and movie kicks (like watching both the original 1954 version of “Sabrina” with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn and the 1995 remake with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond back-to-back one Saturday afternoon).

And if reading history has taught me anything, it’s taught me two things: One, pretty much everything that is happening has already happened in one way or another; and two, humans will endure.

It helps me to endure by seeing the middle view set alongside the long views and close views, to gain perspective in tragic and unsettling times.

David Murdock is an English instructor at Gadsden State Community College. He can be contacted at murdockcolumn@yahoo.com. The opinions reflected are his own.