In these days of confinement, a friend told me that he decided to do an introspection exercise to get to know himself more intimately… he no longer speaks to himself.
Allen Konigsberg once said that humor is “tragedy + distance”. While the pandemic seemed somewhat distant or unlikely, and given to happen on another continent, the jokes were cruder. Humor is, however, therapeutic and serves us both to cope with a bad situation and to overcome it when it comes to pass. The bombardment of messages, greetings, fake news, jokes, reliable information, as well as tragic or hopeful news, have led us all to an emotional rollercoaster, intensified by loneliness and confinement.
By the time the pandemic began, I lived in Madrid and continued to do so up until mid-March, we were in “La ciudad alegre y confiada” (The happy and confident city), which, as many will remember, is the second part of Benavente’s “Los intereses creados” (The vested interest) -well, it was such vested interests that generated that false sense of security which led Spain to hold on to a happy and confident life, right up until the comedy turned into tragedy.
Learning from various experts that sixty to seventy percent of the world’s population would be infected with COVID-19, I concluded that I would also become infected and that I should take precautions as much as possible, although I was sure that the disease would be mild for me, because of my age and personal health; so I focused on strengthening my defenses through supplements and diet, exercise and the sun, and through good humor.
We had already started the telework mode, so when the president of the foundation urged me to go to Panama and be with my family throughout this predicament, I did not think about it twice, thus 36 hours after, I was already with my family. From the moment I arrived from Spain, I automatically went into quarantine -as is the prophylactic norm- and have only had immediate personal contact with my wife and two of my children. Nonetheless, since my arrival we have all been keeping the recommended distance and precautions.
While I was in Spain I felt completely healthy; though I had contact with at least three people who had flu-like symptoms, none of them thought they had COVID-19. However, once in the airplane and during the flight, I began to feel symptoms such as slight headache, low-grade fever and body discomfort; I informed the stewardess and in fact, when they took my temperature, I had a half degree of fever – technically it is not fever – so I put on a mask and gloves throughout the rest of the journey.
Upon arrival in Panama I also informed the health ministry personnel and they gave me a green card with a phone number to call. Within a couple of days, the headache and low-grade fever were gone; however, body discomfort remained and food was tasteless to me. Bodily discomfort was in the lower back area and was alleviated with Tylenol. Commenting on my symptoms with my brother Alfredo, who is a doctor, he insisted that I take the COVID-19 test because loss of sense of smell / taste is one of the symptoms. They tested me at home in a very professional way, and from that moment, they have been monitoring me daily by phone; in general, the Panamanian authorities have handled the situation very well. As a matter of fact, I did get infected, it was indeed mild, and in fact I already feel totally recovered.
In spite of all, and not just because of myself, but because of others, I have been in total confinement in my room for two weeks now; I eat in disposable dishes and cups, I wash my hands with soap several times a day and I only keep personal contacts virtually. Thanks to my wife Alexandra, for the well-being of the family, the confinement has been very bearable and at the same time very strict. I have worked every day, I have held meetings with people on three continents, I have played with my children and my grandchildren, I have talked with my wife, I have thought a lot and reflected on many things, but I have not seen all the series that I thought I would watch. I have not written all the books that I thought would finish, and I have not fully grasped the reason for all these events.
At first, when foolishness seemed to be in command of many countries, I remembered a phrase from Albert Einstein: “There are two infinite things: the universe and human stupidity. I’m not sure about the first… ” still throughout these days, I have seen that there are more infinite things in humanity, such as kindness, solidarity and sacrifice for others; I have learned that many things that dominate us, do so because we believe they have such power over us; yet today, neither money, nor oil, or weapons are more important than empathy, sanitary measures and nourishment.
How many times have we remembered the desperate cry of the great Mafalda: “Stop the world, I want to get off”! In this information age, it is symbolic that such an invisible and insignificant thing, that only contains data to replicate itself, may have literally “stopped the world”, and the world seems to be thanking it for doing so.
The genius of the humorist lies in saying much with little, the implicit is more important than the explicit, the obvious is more shocking than the complex and, above all, in the midst of the joke, the humorist always points to the truth.
We are all in survival mode. In these moments when the tragedy gets too close for us to find it funny, and in which immediacy makes it irrelevant to look for the culprits, the only sensible thing to do is to listen to Mafalda and the world will be different.
Milton Cohen-Henriquez Sasso