One Rainy Friday in the Time of the Wuhan Virus

by Phyllis Chesler

Staying indoors is a privilege, not a punishment, when it is raining outside—as it is today in Manhattan. My weather app tells me that the humidity is 92% and the risk of flu is “high in my area.” Thus, it’s a perfect day to do what I usually do: Read, write, and edit manuscript pages as I listen to classical music, scour my emails, and read articles.

I have more time to read books, which is the greatest luxury imaginable. I always read commentaries on the Torah, such as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack’s commentaries Covenant and ConversationThe Splendid and the Vile—about Winston Churchill, the very man whom I voted for in the last election; Anne De Courcy’s Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930-1944The Story of Sidonie C. Freud’s Famous “Case of Female Homosexuality.” I hope someday to be done with Europe both before and during the two World Wars, which is also the subject of so many films.

This is how I lead my life when no plague is raging. All that’s changed is that I cannot visit or host family, friends, or colleagues; go out nearby for dinner and a movie; or deliver a lecture. But my life of Ideas goes on. I have been publishing articles and lecturing via webinars, and happily attending live Torah and Talmud classes online.

However, reality is far too surreal for any jollity. I am much quieter than usual in terms of calling people. I am driven silent before the high death count in my own city (18,000 and counting), and by the recent suicides of a doctor and a young paramedic.

Should I consider leaving the city for good? Where would I go? How will people eat if they have no money or if the food chain degrades? How is the Virus affecting refugees everywhere, who are crammed into tents and prison-like facilities? Will the Virus keep returning? Will we find a vaccine that works for everyone? What will the parents of young children do given that summer camps are being cancelled and there is only a 50-50 chance that NYC schools will reopen in the fall? Is it safe to re-open public spaces?

Sometimes I think that I may never go out again.