Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF is a tribute to Leander Starr Jameson, a Victorian war hero who led the failed Jameson Raid against the Transvaal Republic. I know this history because in the 1960s I taught at Jameson High School in Zimbabwe. The school was named in the man’s honor as were two of the four student dormitories, Starr and Leander. All this is in my upcoming memoir, of course, so I’ll get back to Kipling’s poem. It begins: If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…
Frankly, that’s a big IF these days which is probably why the poem came to mind. The upcoming presidential elections have been spiked with surprises, studded with conspiracy theories and hammered by the Coronavirus. Before the pandemic, many questioned our President’s competence. Today, as he moves to contain the bad news rather than cope with the infection, few of us are left with any doubt.
I have decided to brace for the pandemic as Kipling suggests—trying to keep my head about me. But with so much stoic energy assigned to the big stuff, I’m finding it hard to endure the small stuff. For example, our state has ordered retirement centers and nursing homes to be closed to outside visitors, separating worried families from their elderly relatives. On the surface, it makes sense. But, carefully examined, it makes none.
Because our President has been slow to acknowledge the pandemic and because test kits for the virus are few, we have no way of separating those who are infected from those who aren’t. In the meantime, while folks can’t get into the retirement center to see loved ones, residents like me can go out. Every day, we wander into the open air to shop, have lunch with friends or see a movie, facing no impediments. Later, we return to our domiciles giving little thought to the virus wad sticking to our shoes like gum. This half-a-precaution seems pointless, like attempting to keep mosquitoes out of the house by installing the bottom portion of a screen door.
A little candor would suit me better than half measures. That way, I wouldn’t be tempted to imagine the government can protect me. I’d know I’d have to protect myself as well as my friends. I’d begin by keeping a safe distance from them, quarantining myself if I feel ill, and washing my hands frequently.
In the meantime, I grit my teeth and wait for November in the hope of ridding this country of Donald Trump, a man who has proved to be a greater plague upon this country than the Coronavirus.