Telling Time – Excerpt

Telling Time – Excerpt


And from the ends of the earth, across the thousands of miles of land and sea, kindly, well-meaning speakers tried to voice their fellow-feeling, and indeed did so, but at the same time proved the utter incapacity of every man truly to share in suffering that he cannot see. — Camus The Plague

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that with the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, I find myself reflecting on another virus that once wreaked epidemic death across the United States. HIV first appeared on the world stage almost forty years ago. Coming of age in that era, I was personally affected by the deaths of friends and wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject as a way to try and understand how novelists could imagine stories about the epidemic.

Now in 2020, as I live immunocompromised in a new world of social isolation and quarantine, I wonder, what exactly does “safe living” mean, and do masks function like “face condoms”? How do you assess risk, when certain behaviors could expose you to something that, in my case and in many others, could kill you?

 Though HIV and Covid-19 are hardly synonymous with each other, especially given that people can recover from Covid-19, I find myself continually surprised at the parallels that have arisen in both crises. Public policy has been woefully inadequate. Fear and politicization of the viruses run rampant. Particularly disturbing to me is how disproportionately deadly the viruses are to people of color.

Unfortunately, forty years haven’t seen enough progress. Still there is no vaccine for HIV. No vaccine was developed for the initial SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. Now, new variants of Covid-19 are arising, which may compromise the efficacy of the current vaccines for the current pandemic. Viruses can be tricky, resilient, and deadly.

One thing that has changed in the forty years, however, is that writers can now more easily bring their works to the light of day. Having successfully published several other books, I decided in this current time of plague to issue my dissertation as a book and to offer it free to whomever may find it useful in their research and otherwise.

I can only hope that in another forty years, more will have changed with respect to American public policy and that we might evolve our empathy beyond Camus’ assertion and one day be able to truly share in the suffering we cannot see.

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