My president, Donald Trump, is a proud nationalist. He embraces its mythology of violence as he flirts with cataclysm. Jump! he says. How high? says his cabinet. He’s ready to fight his battles down to the last sucker. If he goes down, it will be in flames.
The virus is deadly serious but plays games. A little relief to tempt you into activity — then it smites you with a cudgel. I felt better last weekend until I tried a peach tart. It’s eerie to experience texture without taste. A Coke with ice and lemon was no more than fizz. My body was a stranger. It was out there somewhere, fighting. The fight demanded all its energy. There was nothing left for me.
I stared at the walls. I thought, my world is gone. More than half a life lived in the Cold War, who cares about that any longer, or the values it bequeathed. A phrase of Albert Camus came back to me: “The most incorrigible vice being that of ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.”
For three hours I lined up for a free coronavirus test. A medic told me the swab in my nostrils would be “disagreeable but not painful.” She then stabbed my brain with what looked like a narrow brochette stick. “That was painful,” I said.
My test result, received two days later, was “positive.” I knew it would be, but still reading the lab result was hard. I am not sure why. Perhaps the certain knowledge that a virus is inside you that could kill you. But then so many things can, and death is life’s one certainty — and we don’t stop the world. We try to make life better. The only way out of this is through.
The plague is back. In fact, as Camus observed, it never goes away. It is waiting to exploit stupidity. Trump wants violence. Do not give it to him. Turn the other cheek. Be stoical. Be the person who stops the tank by standing there.
I am hunkered down. My survival chances are still better than those of an opposition leader in the Russia of Trump’s buddy. My daughter and her husband, both doctors, say I have a moderate case. I think I picked it up in a crowded Paris bar watching a soccer match. Whether soccer or life is more important is an open question to me.
The epigraph to Zweig’s book is a quote from Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline”:
“And meet the time as it seeks us.”
I will still try to do that. We must all fight, in the way my body is fighting now with every ounce of its strength to see off the enemy within, if the orange face of the plague is not to devour us all.
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.