My mother thinks the coronavirus is a global conspiracy meant to 1) kill off people (because there are too many of us around) and 2) enable those who unleashed it to profit from it and “rearrange the global order”.
I tell her the numbers. I tell her that people are really dying, that this virus is serious.
“Where are all these cases and all these deaths?” she answers back. “I don’t believe in these numbers. How can I know that they are true?”
A few months ago, I wrote about the emotional neutrality of big stats and how it’s hard to feel the suffering behind statistics.
Stalin comes to mind again. He said that one death is a tragedy but that a million deaths is just a statistic.
The virus here in Romania is raging—there are around 50 deaths and over 1,000 cases every day. That’s considerably more than in spring.
Back then, my mother was faced with the option to stay home or go to work. She chose to go to work.
It took some persuasion on my end to get her to stay home. At work she has contact with many people, and she’s over 50 and smokes like a locomotive.
What’s more, grandmother lives close by, my mother sees her every day, and they don’t maintain much of a distance.
My grandmother doesn’t out of habit, she’s never had to deal with anything like this virus. She’s used to the company of others, and her sight and hearing aren’t good anymore, so if you talk to her, she has to come close to you to understand.
In the end, my mother remained home for about a month and a half. Then the lockdown was lifted and things seemed to stabilize before everyone started going places and cases surged.
At work, she has to wear a face mask most of the day as well as other protective gear. She hates that, says she can’t breathe properly through her mask.
She complained of shortness of breath in the past and often feels unwell. She doesn’t take very good care of herself.
This week she has been to the beach with her boyfriend. I had mixed feelings about that trip.
On the one hand I knew she needed it, on the other I thought of the risks. I brought her up to date with the latest numbers but she was quite firm about her desire to go.
Perhaps my mother’s attitude is a psychological reaction, a kind of self-defense mechanism. Perhaps it’s easier to think that a virus like COVID-19 is something made in a lab and controlled by some people than something natural and largely beyond human control, for the time being at least.
There have been well over 21,000,000 million coronavirus cases so far.
I wonder how many of those 21 million people have been like my mother, I don’t mean to say careless–she does wear a mask on the street and does wash her hands when she comes home–but rather stubbornly disbelieving that the coronavirus can happen to them and going about their lives as usual.
And I hope she will not be one of them.