Before judging too harshly, know that I see parts of myself throughout.
I have finally surrendered to the inevitability of our rudderless, leaderless society. Exhausted and diminished after the chaos of pandemic life, I voluntarily set off on an adventure: a land without masks or politicians, boosters or board meetings, a place where you can embrace life in all its risk and danger and drunken pageantry.
At the end of the year of our virus 2021, I sacrificed my vaccinated blood to the priestess Omicron: I boarded a cruise ship.
This required considerable and conscious effort—the seeking out of pre-embarkation COVID tests, the procurement of vaccine cards and home test kits, the stockpiling of masks, and the consumption of great amounts of discouraging information. And yet, I persevered, deep into the heart of epidemiological darkness.
Life inside the priestess’ floating temple invites temptation day and night, with servants pouring wine and merriment and endless buffets of sweets and sacrificial meats and song and dance and constant assurances to all seekers that life is Good, by her grace. We parade throughout, young and old, obedient to the priestess’ rule (wear thy mask!)…but also noting her sly winks (maskless while imbibing or engorging or taking communal baths).
And merry we are! We lounge in a care-free temple, here on her ocean, adrift from the drama and terror and hate of our former lands. Together, we share her gifts—the paranoids and the chin-diapers and the tattooed 3%, feasting side-by-side and enjoying our $13 fermented sugar cane. Tonight, we surrender allegiances to past Facebook clans and revel in celebratory gluttony.
For while the priestess cannot deliver us to the world from before her arrival, she can make us forget. She can exhaust our senses, drain our will, break us into the tiniest fragments of who we once were. She can rebuild us in her image, strong and filled with power, undeterred by past fears and hesitations.
Her price is less than 1 percent of our souls. And there are thousands of people floating in this temple, so I like my odds.
So does she.
Every morning, pilgrims such as myself receive an opportunity to test our bodily fluids, to see if we have yet received her blessing. The Test is not required; many pilgrims choose to flit about in mystery. The Test takes time and diligence, and truly, what is gained by knowing she has visited you? For once you know you are chosen, the temple’s proprietors will forbid you from participating in its many delights. No, Tests are for the uninitiated.
You can easily identify these uninitiated; they walk slowly, as if the speed of their gait somehow changes their odds. They do not stretch the “rules”—mask on, always on. Perhaps they eat at odd hours when the throngs of pilgrims have lessened. Perhaps they avoid “risky” activities (but in this place, are they not all risky?). They drink, but do not drunk. Their masks are crisp and sturdy, thick as tree bark.
At the other extreme are the converted: men and women, already pledged to her, enjoying the many joys of faith. They know the priestess does not truly care one way or the other if you wear the temple’s mask, or when, or for how long. They are full of life. Energetic. No pleasure is denied them, for this is a place of endless pleasure! And when their journey ends, they will return invigorated and evermore confident in her faith. They trade secrets as a sort of currency, such as where to procure masks-that-are-not-masks or how many others they know who have not died.
I’ve tried every day of this pilgrimage to find the same joy and freedom I see in the converted, but instead I find myself more and more intrigued by their recklessness. Not horrified, or intimidated, but deeply fascinated. How can so many people have such intentional denial? Why do I see risk where they see laughter? I had joined this troupe in an effort to ground myself and rediscover inner energies, but instead of studying myself I am studying everyone around me.
As we approach the end, it’s become obvious that there is no pandemic. A pandemic reaches all, and I suspect that most of humanity has already decided that they no longer subscribe to that religion. No, we each now live in a pandemic of one, disconnected from each other. We do not share a common good, only communal sin.
Pandemics end when you decide you’re done, shortly after spinning nature’s wheel of fate.
Blessed are the 99.5%.