This story, with some nice cheeky phrases, appeared in The Seattle Times this week about the “worried well” hitting the road to get out of the “germy epicenter of infections in Britain,” which would be London. Off the wealthy well went to the Lake District, Hebrides and Cornwall, where they thought they would be socially distanced only to find residents there very anti-social, as in “Go away” and quit bringing your disease here.
Same thing is also happening in the United States, where National Parks have been closed to keep people out. Residents in faraway places such as Methow Valley in Washington State are putting up Facebook warnings to keep your face elsewhere. The rich know the drill: Get an early warning of a pandemic, sell your stock and flee to your hidey-hole away from medical facilities, spreading the coronavirus as you go.
Nothing new here, as Daniel Defoe wrote in “A Journal of the Plague Year.” In 1664, when the plague hit England, the rich “thronged out of town.”
My daily check-in with TV stations to track the number of COVID-19 cases and the number of the dead reminds me of Defoe’s way of keeping track of the plague, following the parishes’ “weekly bill of mortality.”
So should Defoe’s narrator join those heading out of town? Defoe devotes many words on this decision, seeing it as directions to those who could face the same thing in the future, like in the year 2020.
He’s a saddler, single but has a house with servants, a shop, warehouse and goods. The bills of mortality are showing 700 dead a day. But to leave, he would “hazard the loss not only of my goods, and indeed of all I had in the world.”
So he should stay, right? That lasts until his older brother shows up and tells him: “Master, save thyself.” Head for the country because “the best preparation for the plague was to run away from it.”
He takes his brother’s advice until it comes into his mind that “nothing attended us without the direction or permission of Divine Power.” Surely God “was able effectually to preserve me in the midst of all the death and danger that would surround me.”
Wait a minute, says brother.
But give me a night to sleep on it, the narrator says. But mostly what he does is read the Bible, especially the 91st Psalm, verses two through seven, which ends “there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.”
That might be enough reason to stick around, but two events the next day made it official: The woman who was supposed to take care of his goods fell sick, and then he did, too.
But he didn’t die as there are many, many pages to go before we sleep.