Annus horribilis 2020 marches to its own drumbeat of ever-worsening news, day after grim day. Earth suddenly feels small, like a crowded cocktail party nobody can leave. It’s enough to make even the sternest among us wonder how much worse things can get.
Here’s a pro-tip. Don’t ask yourself this question, for deep down you already know the answer. It can always get worse. If naturalism teaches anything, it’s that in the great literary conflict of man versus nature, nature is undefeated. Bad things aren’t happening to us. They’re just happening.
Recently I fell for the fatuous feint. During an early morning run, I self-pityingly wondered whether we had hit rock bottom. Later over breakfast, a perusal of the morning’s headlines confirmed my folly.
You see, a squirrel found in Colorado has tested positive, not for the coronavirus, mind you, but the bubonic plague. That’s right. Bushy-the-Squirrel has the Plague.
It happened in Morrison, a town just outside Denver. This means a little critter is afoot who likely approached park benches possessed of both an abiding love of acorns and the Black Death. The mayor’s spit-take on hearing this news over morning coffee was surely one for the ages.
Local politics aside, this squirrely development in already grim times revealed how little I actually know about infectious diseases. I was sure we had licked the medieval contagion in, well, medieval times.
Not so much, as it turns out. The bubonic plague wiped out fifty million people in the 14th century, laid low for a couple hundred years and now is back waging a proxy war on Rocky Mountain squirrels.
The story also revealed how unaware I am of the modern state of rodent health care. I had no idea we catered to these varmints, figuring the expression “even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while” spoke to our policy of salutary neglect. This diagnosis was made in what, a squirrel minute-clinic?
Most of all, the gnawer news shamed me for making me forget from my childhood an Irish proverb I can still hear my mother say: There’s nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse.
That’s the right outlook, I think, for today’s times. Sure, scientists may point out how rodents in rural areas often carry the bacteria that causes plague. But in 2020 – when the saying “you’re not paranoid if everyone really is out to get you” was never truer – I’m not taking any chances.
My advice this year? Hope for the best but expect the worst. And maintain social distance from squirrels, at least for the time being.