Food for Worms

We made the decision to cancel VinNEBRASKA 2020 a few days ago. It wasn’t easy and there was plenty of argument, people passionate about both sides, money to be lost, difficult logistics to consider, but in the end I and a majority of other members voted to cancel the 30th annual variation of Nebraska’s largest and most prestigious wine event. Peoples’ safety has to be paramount.  About a hundred more emails followed. I will assume the lead of the organization next year; I expect my first year to be especially complicated as we attempt to move forward after cancelling for a global pandemic. If, in fact, the pandemic has ended by then.


I suspect that in years to come, the “where were you when” narratives will be a point of common ground, as it is with 9/11 — among survivors, that is. Those of us of a certain age all recall precisely where we were that morning.  As it will related to this pandemic, I imagine my own experiences are rather mild compared to many, at least for now, and I should prefer them that way. So far, only one of Sonja’s friends, someone from long ago, and none of mine that I am aware of, has contracted the disease.

The emails have been pouring in for me as I imagine they did for you as well: the USHMM is closed, school is closed for the foreseeable future, the University has closed, the Garmin Marathon was cancelled, Rock the Parkway was cancelled. WeBop, my kids’ introductory jazz class, was cancelled, and shortly after so was Billy Elliot. Then last night, a friend from the gym who likes wine texted to ask me how long to decant a nice bottle of Merlot. I asked him the vintage and producer, then gave him my recommendation. His next text stunned me: Did you see the email from The Athletic Club?

The Athletic Club is our gym, and I had not seen an email. I dug around in my SPAM folder, found it, and read that they had closed our gym after Douglas County officials informed management that an individual with a confirmed case of COVID-19 had exercised Thursday morning — at the same time I go there everyday, no less. Thursday morning I was recovering from surgery and hadn’t gone in. In fact, I haven’t been in since; gyms are cesspools and I’ve opted to go jogging in light of current events. My friend quipped that he had been there but hadn’t licked anything. Humor can be useful in a time like this. There was a reason he was drinking his best bottle of wine.

Had you told me two weeks ago that I’d have additional time at home this week, I’d have been elated. The NBA Playoffs and March Madness were almost upon us! Of course, they were cancelled as well, and I’m bracing myself for the likelihood that the trip to Oregon that I planned for Sonja and I may soon have the plug pulled as well. I called off track practice Friday, and it was called off for me after that. I’ve advised my athletes to stay in shape, though I suspect now that track season will never get here. Our district closed school for a week, and pledged to reevaluate. In speaking with a friend who works at UNMC last night, I mentioned that things would have to get better in order to reopen. “We had an all-hands call on Friday; our estimate is eight to eleven weeks,” he responded.

During this time we’ve continued to entertain in our home, though small groups, and when Sonja felt ill yesterday we cancelled on going to our neighbor’s house for a post-St. Patrick’s Day Parade dinner that had turned simply into a dinner.  Friends came over Friday night, but a few understandably cancelled on the dinner party, and we avoided shaking hands or hugging, which felt odd to say the least. I’ve been drinking more wine lately, and pretty good stuff, too. I see no real reason to suspend imbibing, and the notion that the really good stuff is in my cellar makes me think maybe I need to take a cue from my friend from the gym start drinking it all (and write about it, of course).

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Yesterday, I stumbled onto a few accounts on Instagram devoted to abandoned structures. I was struck; massive chateau, libraries, whole villages, ships, theme parks, shopping malls — all of them once grand and new and expensive, all of them now in varying states of decay and disrepair. Some had clearly been abandoned in a hurry, as books, busts, sheets and pillows, pianos, and more remained behind. The classroom, of course, held special significance to me. In each new image I found fresh statements about mortality. I once asked my students what I say to them most often. Every class responded differently to this query, though one answer in particular struck me.

“You tell us that humans are food for worms, and that we need to live meaningful lives because they’re short.”  Indeed.

All across our nation, people who once mocked this deadly outbreak as a “hoax” seem to be waking up. Too late? True, the flu is deadly, but we vaccinate for the flu; I am incapable of carrying it because, as a responsible citizen, I take ninety seconds a year to immunize myself to it. Elsewhere, young people seem to be out and about, unconcerned, passing around a disease which they will then carry home to others, to people they presumably care about. They will kill their own parents and grandparents with their reckless behavior, with their inability to fathom the consequences of their own actions in this moment.  The ineptitude of local, state, and national officials merely punctuates it all for me. This is, in large part, a self-inflicted wound. We cannot get tests, so we have no real idea how many people have this disease.  And while the President calls for a national day of prayer, I’m struck by the irony that his actions have contributed to our church and countless others being closed for at least the next month to try to curb the spread of the Corona Virus. Meanwhile, those same actions — being ill prepared and not taking this deadly outbreak seriously, will lead to other churches staying open, relying on faith to save their elderly congregants from a global pandemic. The poor fools. I have always believed that it was God Himself who enlightened Charles Darwin.

Friends, I don’t know where you are today. I don’t know what you’re doing. I pray you haven’t contracted this horrible disease and that you don’t. I don’t have any answers for you, save to advise you not to go stir-crazy as you attempt to isolate yourself from others, for the good of others if not your own. Each day since I realized my sanity was at risk, I’ve gone for a nice long jog, and each night I’ve pulled a new cork. I may slow down some on the cork pulling, but if anything I hope to increase the solitary, peaceful miles, and I suspect Titus and I will make good progress in Harry Potter and other books in the coming time as his daycare and my schools are both closed.  In the weeks and months to come, I’ll attempt to write you when I have something to say, and I’ll attempt not to dwell on what I know is at the forefront of all of our minds each day. Most of all, I’m going to attempt to take my own advice, to live an increasingly meaningful life, to be the best father, husband, and teacher I can be. Wish me luck; I’ll do the same for you and yours.




4 responses to “Food for Worms

  1. Mark, we’re 100% aligned with your comments. On the need for caution, deliberate action, mindfulness—and of course pulling your best corks. As you may have seen from my notes yesterday, we were supposed to be in Tuscany this past week. So much to unpack with that idea… glad you and family are safe. You’re making the right moves and know that we’ll continue to send support and best wishes to you and yours. Rich

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark, I get the feeling that you have already achieved your goal of being the best father… It’s a shame you had to have any grief about canceling the wine event, but I guess it should be expected. But, better luck next year and I hope it hoes well for you.

    Liked by 1 person

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