MARCH 17, 2020
Is the coronavirus the end of the world as we know it? I was always told the world was going to end. In 1971, when I was a kid, George, the leader of the cult in which I grew up in New Hampshire, said the world would end in two years. Then God gave us until 1975. George told us that God wanted us to build boats so that when the world ended we could take to sea in trimarans like Noah and sail away. Those boats never saw the ocean, but we labored on them for years. In 1981, when I left the Farm with two dollars and a sleeping bag, they had been given two more years until the end of the world. So when I’m faced with headlines telling me that the world is going to end, it’s hard for me to believe it. When friends are too scared to leave their houses, when I see people stockpiling water, toilet paper, and pasta, I want to say, “Breathe, I know this is a country founded on fire and brimstone, but we all need to breathe. The world is not ending. Let’s take care of each other. Let’s be our own best selves.”
The world has a goodly number of kind, smart, and careful people. It also seems to have a lot of people who want to stock up on toilet paper, which is a bit of a puzzle, but there are smart people who are going to figure a way out of this virus situation. Since 2005, when I was president of PEN USA, there’s been a lot of travel in my life. The book business is built on relationships. But events are canceled, travel is out of the question, and I’ll be home for two months, maybe longer. It will be like living in the 19th century, which is a lot like my early life. We gardened, cooked, read the Bible, and listened to the Messiah. I expect to garden and cook. I’m not building a boat for the end of the world — I’m practicing carefulness, kindness, reading, and writing. We’ll all have time away from football games and parties, away from travel and noise, to remember the essential things, which are to love and to take care of those closest to us, and to be good to those in our community. Live bravely. Care for others, and when you find yourselves bored, do what we all used to do, read a good book.