THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH ADORNS OUR TIME
Do you know what your ceiling looks like on sleepless nights? I’m betting you do. Wide-eyed for hours. Anxious. Numb. Searching. Clawing for resolution to another real-life nightmare.
I’m not talking small stuff here. Not the latest skirmish at work. Not some science project needing attention. But you knew that. You’re already going where you keep your private stock of worries.
My private stock? Well, I’ll share three. For a teenager, a mom who wouldn’t be making it through seven years of radical surgeries, radiation, and chemo. Later, a brother-in-law with the same breast cancer succumbing early to a bout of infection. For decades, a son’s battle against lethal immune deficiency. I’ll leave it there because I know your worries have been, and still are, at least as compelling as mine. You don’t need me telling you what forms the shadow stake on your ceiling.
Yet, I wonder. Is it possible our tortured night visions are converging? For starters, weakened immune systems stemming from innate biochemistry or exposure to invasive agents are endured by ten-million-plus Americans. Joining them in vulnerability to pathogens are folk with heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, their numbers bourgeoning to120, 37, and 35 million, respectively. Pre-existing conditions abound. Over half of the adults you and I know, along with many children, have one or more of these vulnerabilities.
Since COVID-19 hit, we’ve been sleepless far more than we should be. And we know why. Here we are, living in the country that has been the greatest juggernaut for scientific achievement and future promise the world has ever known, yet our federal government has responded like a lower tier third-world country.
Yes, a man who shares none of our empathy or desire to help others has stuck a crooked stick in the whirring spokes of the great American juggernaut, choosing self-aggrandizement, criminality, and runaway ignorance over you, me, and everything we hold dear—everything our ancestors worked, fought, and died for. Our toil. Our children’s dreams. Everything!
Choosing pursuit of raw power over even minimally competent governance, this charlatan has already personally accounted for—is accountable for—more than one-hundred-thousand needless deaths. For months deceiving his ardent followers into rejecting masks, he has endangered them and us. Giving the boldface lie to hollow claims of patriotism, he has falsely declared it alright to rain death upon fellow citizens—a few droplets at a time.
Supporting the wellbeing of all citizens, sacrificing when necessary, is the hallmark of true patriotism. The careless shredding of America’s social contract by the serrated edge of claims to rights devoid of responsibility is anything but.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s epic short story, The Masque of the Red Death, the arrogant and dismissive Prince Prospero convinces his courtiers to join him for a night of revelry during a virulent plague, assuring them they have nothing to fear.
But their unease grows as a towering ebony clock chimes on toward midnight. At the last stroke of twelve, the mask is stripped from a ghoulish stranger, revealing nothing more than an invisible mist within its hollow robes. Thusly freed, the Red Death quickly seeps from room to room, leaving no reveler untouched.
Sound familiar? Yet COVID-19 is merely the overture to the first act of the looming climate catastrophe and poisoning of America being perpetuated and exacerbated by incompetent, self-serving leadership at the highest levels of our government. Do we continue staring at the ceiling? Most likely. But what else can we do? The words volunteer, donate, influence, and vote come to mind.
If any one of us fails to act, November 3, 2020 may strike midnight for the Great American Experiment.