Surviving the Pandemic: We’re Wearing Masks… but the Masks Are Coming Off

Pope Francis about to start extraordinary prayer in empty St. Peter’s Square for those suffering from the virus, their families and medical workers.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo credit: Shutterstock

By Jesse Kornbluth

Pope Francis about to start extraordinary prayer in empty St. Peter’s Square for those suffering from the virus, their families and medical workers.

That’s Rome. Here’s what’s happening at Mt. Sinai West Hospital. 10th Avenue and 59th Street, 4.8 miles from my apartment. Please spend 2 minutes with Diana Torres, a nurse there:

“There’s nothing else to lose but our lives, she says. In 5 to 10 days, a great many people in my city — and maybe yours — may be saying that. In a way, we already are. It’s like a bass line, very low, under every conversation. It’s in the sudden pauses. The black humor. The glances we sneak at our children. The way we wake in the night and watch a sleeping lover. The way emails are flying from distant friends and the phone delivers unprecedented candor. We’re wearing masks… but the masks are coming off.

I’ve been following Joan Juliet Buck on Facebook. Here’s the key passage in today’s dispatch:
I don’t need to know I existed. That’s the past.
I need to know that I exist, that I will exist. That we will come through this cleaner, simpler, more focused on the potential of each moment than on the wreckage of the past.
I need to know that world exists, that it will exist.
I need to tell people about things that are, not things that were.

That’s what I’ve been thinking. There are now three kinds of time: Past, Present, and, with luck, Future. Past no longer matters. Future is unknowable. Now is all we have — and we hold it, hard, paying total attention.

Thinking about the Present, I see two things happening simultaneously:

1) The political story is now an irresistible epic drama. The mad king. His eager successors: the sharp-toothed daughter and her soulless husband. The Stepford wife, increasingly invisible. The satanic advisers. The emasculated vassals and thanes. The healer who knows too much. The most powerful 80-year-old woman on the planet.

2) There’s so much news, but little of it addresses the question on everyone’s mind: Will I live?

This blunt question can paralyze you. The long view won’t deliver candy and unicorns, but it is a comfort. It’s from Marcus Aurelius. A Stoic friend — yes, there are such people — sent me this video. You’ll see a remarkable leader, but don’t get caught up in the inevitable comparisons. Consider that what is happening now has happened before. And, most important of all, consider that how you act is as important than the outcome. Maybe more. Please watch.

Under the influence of that video, and a long walk, I came to an awareness that words have different meanings now. Example: “Terms of Service.” It used to refer to the fine print nobody reads. Now, for me, it means how I engage with the world. Then there’s capital-letter “Resistance.” It used to have a political meaning: people following the lead of Bernie Sanders and AOC. That’s all over for me. The Resistance is now about doing whatever it takes to get my loved ones — and you — to the other side of the plague that’s hurtling toward us. I have no idea what that will require. But I suspect that in less than two weeks, we’ll all find out.


A mask. Any kind. Even homemade. The Washington Post explains why.

O’Keeffe’s Working Hands Hand Cream
Egyptian Magic. (You get much more and pay less at

ThinAddictives Cranberry Almond Thins 100 calories per snack pack.

Vitamin D
Data from 16 clinical trials involving 7,400 people show that taking vitamin D supplements reduces the risk of experiencing at least one respiratory infection including influenza and pneumonia by a third with positive benefits seen within 3 weeks.
(To buy Vitamin D3 Enhanced with Coconut Oil from Amazon, click here. To buy Vitamin D in Fruit Flavored Gummies from Amazon, click here.)

Apple Cider Vinegar Gummy Vitamins
Apple cider vinegar contains potassium, which thins mucus; and the acetic acid in it prevents germ growth, which could contribute to nasal congestion. (To buy Cider Vinegar Gummies from Amazon, click here.)

Chelated Zinc
Zinc is important in fighting infection. Food sources include red meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds and dark chocolate. Note: Not to be taken every day; it can cause toxicity. (To buy Chelated Zinc from Amazon, click here.)

These will eat hours and hours. Hint: Start with the outer rim. (To buy a puzzle on Amazon, click here.)

Twitter: “Isolation update: everyone has their windows open and someone in the building next to mine was having sex and she came super loud and then a bunch of people cheered.”

Bias: Kimberly Brooks is a friend. One reason: I like her work. She’s making her art classes free. For details, click.

I taught screenwriting at NYU for a decade. There wasn’t lavish equipment. Tuition was reasonable. The kids weren’t rich. I remember Chris Columbus sneaking into the tire factory in Ohio where he worked for the summer to copy his script. Vince Gilligan came from a small town in Virginia. Now tuition tops $60,000; if you live in a dorm, $77,000. Students requested a refund for this semester’s lost classes. In response, the dean made a video. Be amazed.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Streamed live, without an audience, last week at UCLA.

Ralph Lauren donated $10 million to a number of organizations: the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund; the company’s own Pink Pony Fund to support cancer institutions that are caring for those who are especially vulnerable at this time; and A Common Thread, which will distribute funds to people in the American fashion community who have been affected. Internally, the brand is also offering financial grants to Ralph Lauren employees facing special circumstances due to the coronavirus, like medical, elder-care, or child-care needs.

I’m reading Claire Berlinski, who lives in Paris. Her daily round-up is a cousin to what I’m doing. For a smart international perspective, click here.

Ben Brantley had a good idea, and he suggested some plays.

At the Met, the Gubbio Studiolo. My favorite room in the museum. Have you ever seen it?

The President had a fond hope. My Twitter feed went nuts. It started with Bradley Whitford: “Fun fact: Jesus refused to tend to the lepers until they pledged allegiance to him and preemptively expressed their gratitude.”
– “Nobody thought that Jesus would be fine by Easter either.”
– “He only shared the miraculous fish with the Fox News crowd…”
– “Jesus very into the quid pro quo.”
– “And then he insisted on signing his name on all the loaves and fishes before they could be given out.”
– “Jesus was also notorious for heading to market and making off with all the Charmin Ultra Soft.”
– “Jesus: I don’t think you need 5000 meals.”
– “The money lenders could have stayed in the temple if they’d contributed to Jesus’ charitable foundation.”
– “Render unto me that which is mine, or you can say farewell to your arm.”
– “It took a lot longer to get your Jesus hat from China, so you really had to plan ahead.”
– “The apostles who weren’t nice to Jesus got the crap seats at the last supper.”

The Queen’s Gambit, by Walter Tevis. I’m not the only fan. READER REVIEW: I don’t read mysteries. I don’t read thrillers. I’m a Barbara Pym kind of reader, who likes books in which the big events are cups of tea. But I got “The Queens Gambit” out of the library and couldn’t put it down. I gave it to my husband, who definitely does read thrillers, and he gulped it down in a day.
READER REVIEW #2: “My Kindle says I’ve read 1/8th of the book. I don’t see how I can stop.”

This story was originally published on The Head Butler and republished on The Good Men Project.

We're having a conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21st century. Main site is Email us

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store