Today and Tomorrow of a Pandemic (3)

Por: José Antonio Michelena

The 2020 leap year that began on Wednesday will be set to fire in human history by the uncontainable transmission, to the five continents, of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, a spread initiated in China during 2019.

Covid-19 has claimed many lives and tested, in crisis management, very diverse governments and states of societies: from the most democratic and open, to the most authoritarian and closed.

But it has also tested us, that we are living an uneedited, unimagined experience, and we do not know exactly when and how this nightmare will end. Nor what will come after it’s over.

Much has been speculated about it, to the point of reaching the (almost) saturation of the subject, but not by looking the pandemic the pandemic will no longer be there, like the dinosaur of Monterroso. Every day we get up and lie by his shadow.

As other publications have done, we wanted to consult the opinion of a group of intellectuals to inquire about their particular experiences during all this time, to know how they have spent it, how their days have elapsed, what they think about this present, and what they expect from the future, how they imagine it.


El profesor Roberto Méndez Martínez
El profesor Roberto Méndez Martínez


By Roberto Méndez Martínez

Roberto, how have you lived these months of lockdown? Have they been of any use to you? Did you make the most of it?

For a writer who must necessarily work in solitude, have a few months in which to spend a few hours concluding his courses through email and having an enormous amount of time to write, read, listen to music and other intellectual needs, is like having received an excellent scholarship —saving the thorny question of economics and supplies.

As in stages like this it is common to abandon myself to leisure, I imposed morning hours to write, and in fact, I was able to review and leave ready an extensive novel whose first draft had waiting for a few months; I was able to correct without too much haste the final evidence of two novels that Mc Pherson in Panama has already given birth to; I left a short book of poetry ready for another foreign publisher; I also complied with the writing of some articles commissioned and grew the folder where I keep new poems. In the evenings and evenings I have read a lot and at all hours I have been accompanied by music in the broadest sense: Bach and Corelli concertos, Mozart symphonies, opera arias performed by Maria Callas, but also danzones and even the song “Those Little Things” by Serrat. My purpose was to achieve something similar to what St John of the Cross called “sound loneliness” and I think I got it.

Is there a conclusion you have made, in existential, religious, spiritual terms, that you want to share?

The main one is the rediscovery of the spiritual importance of the family. This time of confinement has allowed me to have much more time with my wife, without those pitched battles and divorce threats that predicted so much pseudopsychologists. With my son I have had long conversations on our terrace, of topics ranging from art history to experiences with unpredictable human behavior. And we have had all this time with us my mother-in-law, without human sacrifices like those of the Aztecs.

This has reaffirmed my notion that the most natural way of living an individual is within a harmonious, dialogue family, where each member respects the rights and opinion of the other.

With regard to religion, at the beginning of isolation I found it catastrophic to live a Holy Week and an Easter time with the temples closed, it was like being without spiritual fuel. We prayed, asking above all that the epidemic in the world should end, but we did so with anguish, with insecurity. As the days passed, peace came. The mass transmitted every Sunday from El Cobre was flickering but encouraging. I came to look for the first time at Spiritual Communion, which is an inner exercise of the theological virtues and makes us better understand so many prisoners, sick, marginalized, far from the community table and prepares us more appropriately for the other communion, under the sacred species, which we so often receive as a routine. Inner prayer, living in the conformity of what God wants to reserve us, and providing some small service to others, have been the most encouraging ways to live catholicity as a family.

What teachings could leave us, as social beings, this time cloistered?

There are several, but I’ll limit myself to two of the most important. The first is the value of solidarity. While so many heads of state behaved like real fools and health systems showed their fissures and manicures everywhere, there were an appreciable number of people who applied the most common to serve others; you always think of doctors and nurses, but there are uns titled people who cared about mitigating the lack of some neighbor, others who offered their company to the loners, or made it milder to lock up their phone calls and messages. The abundance of selfishness and greed in the world was countered by the presence of the righteous who acted as guardian angels.

The second has to do with our relationship with nature. From the first teaching I was told that today man dominated it, that just as it was possible to travel to the cosmos, dam rivers, irrigate deserts, draw oil from the bowels of the earth, it was possible to grow people’s life expectancy to great extremes, that with antibiotics, painkillers and vaccines, epidemics such as the Black Plague of Middle Europe would never return… And you see… thanks to globalization we have experienced a more global pandemic than world wars. It is necessary to change our relationship with nature, to preserve an order in it that is sacred. It would only be that the agnostics reviewed the pages of Laudato if of Pope Francis.

How do you live up the post-pandemic future?

I am convinced that the announced economic crisis is true, as evidenced by the downward charts of sectors such as hospitality, airlines and will continue in other fields, from the production of goods to real estate investments. What I am not sure of is that a new international economic order will take place, simply the rich will be a little less rich—for a while—and the poor much poorer—for much longer.

From now on, concepts such as absolute market autonomy and the theory of necessarily weak states are even less credible. I hope that at least the need to strengthen health systems will be reflected everywhere and that universal health coverage will be sought in countries where there are strong economies. You have to stop looking at medicine as a business because it goes on the survival of human beings.

Roberto Mendez Martínez

Poet, narrator, essayist, art critic, researcher, university professor. Doctor of Science in Art. Member of the Cuban Academy of Language.

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