Thursday, March 19, 2020

Readiness is all

     I strive to be rational, and to live a rational life. But I'm not Mr. Spock, so fall prey to some of the same irrational practices dabbled in by everybody else. I wish upon stars, touch wood, and consider certain situations "lucky."
    Or unlucky. Baseless fears and oddball notions afflict just about everybody, and such tendencies are amplified by strain, such as the current crisis.
     For the past few days I've been seeing crows—large, deeply black birds—as not just a welcome indication that the crow population has rebounded. But a sign. A bad sign. A warning.
     Crows aren't quite vultures, but they are omnivores, and will eat almost anything, including carrion and, given the chance, our corpses. It's like they're watching us. Waiting.
     Nor is it just the crows. I set out to walk our dog Kitty Wednesday morning. After a few steps, her attention was riveted to a spot on the lawn in front of our house. She snuffed mightily, and I noticed a scattering of white wisps. Fur of some sort. Plus a bloody leaf, and, at third glance, a white puff that had to have been, until very recently, a rabbit's tail. The culprit? A hawk, probably. Or perhaps a pre-dawn coyote—we saw one only a few weeks ago.
    I gazed down at the white tufts and had a single, chill thought —I'm almost embarrassed to say: "An augury!" A presentiment of what is to come.
    And that is? Difficult to put into words. Something along the lines of: Nature doesn't care about our little edifice of society and culture and hopes and selves. Death just scythes the field, it doesn't first sort the good from the bad. I'm sure that was a fine rabbit, handsome, intelligent, with a tidy hutch somewhere, nosing the morning air for a waft of delicious ... whatever the heck it is rabbits eat. Then bam! Doom from above. Or a final thought, "Oh sh..." as the coyote pounces.
     A prediction. An augury.
     Luckily, I had a few lines of Shakespeare to bat that away with.
    "We defy augury..." then—God, this is really embarrassing—"There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all." I said it out loud.
      No kidding. Getting ready is about all anyone can do nowadays. That and wait. And worry.
      The readiness is all. That seems a sentiment worth sharing in these parlous times. Readiness is good, is it not? 

    And yes—don't all shout it out at once—I know the trepidation that Hamlet feels is well-placed: he is reluctant to agree to a duel with Laertes that will in fact—spoiler alert!—kill them both.  Readiness doesn't help him much; he shoulda paid attention to the signs.
      But the current contest is one that will go on with or without our consent. Ready or not, the sword's hilt is thrust into our freshly-Purelled hands and we must duel with this invisible thing, this virus, defending ourselves by ... geez, washing our hands a lot I guess and keeping a sword-length of distance. 
     We defy augury. How? Yes, by being ready. By doing what we can to prepare. Also by not being too afraid. Notice, I didn't say "by not being afraid." A certain amount of fear is inevitable, and even useful, to the degree that it prompts you to vigilance, doing the steps you're supposed to do to keep yourself and others safe. 
     But not so much fear that it poisons these pre-spring days.  Even in the very worst scenarios, the vast majority of people will be fine, only suffering the harm of having to live through the coming ordeal. Unlike that poor rabbit.


  1. I’m with you Neil. Your column today brought to mind the movie The Omen, specifically the crow scene. Also, Hitchcock’s The Birds. Both films used those birds to give audiences a chilling scare. And they succeeded. No one wants to find the remains of a rabbit on their morning walk. Or see crows! From what I’ve read, though, the number of crows you see has significance. To me, that’s neither here nor there! Those birds, crows or ravens, seem sinister. if I am out walking alone, I don’t want to see any number of crows checking me out or munching on Peter Rabbit!

    1. Crows have never bothered me...I even sorta like them, and when their numbers began to dwindle at the outer edges of Cleveland over the last couple of decades, I missed them. The sounds they make when they fly into my neighborhood from the adjoining river valley to alight in nearby treetops (for one of their noisy "crow conventions"), remind me of other places I've lived in. Places that were far smaller and far less stressful...mostly college towns in the South, West, and Midwest.

      Apparently, crows are highly intelligent birds, and some of them can even be domesticated and kept as indoor pets. I strongly believe that their bad rap, negative connotations, and portents of ominous times all stem from their shiny black coloring, hence the term "murder" of crows (like a pride of lions or a pack of wolves) to describe them in the plural.

      Black living things always seem to get the crappy end of the stick, whether they're insects, dogs, cats, birds, or human beings. Having had several loving and affectionate black felines as longtime animal companions, I find this human trait to be unwarranted, unkind, and sad.

  2. Readiness is all - a good reminder. Thanks.

    Speaking of which: I'd like to know if Chicago Public Schools ever finished air conditioning all their schools as they had planned. I hope someone at CPS is anticipating that school might be resumed in the heat of the summer. As bad as things are right now, readying the classrooms while they are currently empty, and workers stand idle, might not be unwise.

  3. That's what comes of living in the country. City bred conies are too cunning to ever allow themselves to be an augury of misfortune.


  4. "As flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods. They kill us for their sport." "King Lear"


  5. Thanks Neil. You put things in good perspective. This is the new normal for the foreseeable future. One can only read and watch so much TV. We broke out the bored games.


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