Joel Freedman

Joel Freedman

This semester at Finger Lakes Community College I enrolled in History 265: The Black Death and Beyond: How Disease Has Changed History, taught by professor Robert Brown. I, of course, was unaware that the history of civilization was about to be drastically affected by the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. On March 11, instead of a lecture/discussion about how ancient Rome dealt with plague, malaria, dysentery and typhoid fever, our class learned students should prepare to complete the course online because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown of the FLCC campus.

During the next few days, Canandaigua’s Wood Library, where I borrow many of the books I review for the Finger Lakes Times, the Canandaigua YMCA, where I regularly exercise, and meetings I attend which help enhance my spirituality and overall well-being, were all closed — as part of the widespread shutdowns in all areas of our lives.

A gratitude inventory helped me to better appreciate what I have, rather than to dwell on my losses. I still have a telephone, a TV set, a radio, a pile of unread books, and the companionship of two sister gerbils and a hamster that I adopted before Lollypop Farm’s adoption center closed.

For daily exercise, I do 200 push-ups (not bad for a 74-year-old man), ride my bike, and take long walks. I have re-connected with out-of-state friends and remain connected with local friends by phone. My correspondence with prisoners, described in my Feb. 1, 2015 FLT guest appearance, has increased. Such correspondence is especially important nowadays because the pandemic has stopped prison visitation.

After sending one death row inmate copies of lecture outlines provided by professor Brown, he wrote me: “One book I did read recently was about the history of the English language. It’s a nice coincidence that you are taking the course on how disease has impacted history because I was going to discuss how the black death helped the English language. Between the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans, English never really had a chance to take off. When the plague killed off most of the Latin speaking priests, a chain reaction of English speaking began, culminating in the Protestant Reformation … I just find it interesting how English had such a late start, but very strong finish.”

I learned something I didn’t know from a prisoner on death row — just as I have often expanded my knowledge through correspondence with prisoners. I would encourage others to embark on similar voyages, not necessarily by corresponding with prisoners but by engaging in any worthwhile activity that takes our minds off COVID-19 and benefits other people or animals who need our friendship.

If we get a COVID-19 infection, how can we increase our chances of having mild symptoms as opposed to life-threatening symptoms? The more we successfully manage stress, get enough sleep, maintain a healthy diet and weight, and keep physically, mentally and spiritually fit, the better our natural immune systems can deal with COVID-19. Healthy lifestyles also help to prevent illnesses such as flu, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

When I shop, I have sometimes observed shortages of unhealthy foods and an abundance of legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables. My vegan diet — no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products — helps me to maintain a healthy lifestyle while also helping to reduce cruelty to animals and environmental disasters. I would bet that future studies will conclude that vegans are less likely than others to die or need hospitalization as a result of COVID-19 infections.

Let’s not forget that COVID-19 probably originated from a filthy animal market in China — just as many other diseases and epidemics in human history resulted from exploitation and consumption of animals.

I would like to share a message from the current newsletter of the New Hampshire Animal Rights League: “Those of us who care about animal suffering hope that the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic makes it the event that brings mainstream awareness to the myriad threats connected with eating animals — from bacterial infections caused by inadvertently ingesting their feces, to novel viruses that pass from their slaughtered bodies to ours, to diseases that arise from the dangerous commingling of farmed and wild animals as we clear forested land for livestock, to the lifestyle diseases linked to eating animal flesh and secretions, and, finally, to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections driven by excessive use of antibiotics on farms.”

In her March 22 FLT column, “Even in a coronavirus crisis, laughter is the best medicine,” Gina Barreca reminded us that “humor rewards originality, offers diversion, enhances intellectual functioning, encourages emotional endurance, promotes a sense of reliance and releases tension without dismissing the seriousness of the situation.” I agree.

When a gentleman complained that there was no toilet paper on the shelves, I couldn’t resist saying, “I guess we are all s—t out of luck.” That elicited some laughter. And when I observed a lady having an emotional meltdown in the store, I said “I don’t know you, but you impress me as being someone who usually has a good sense of humor. We are all in this together. Try to keep your sense of humor, OK? So, do me and yourself a favor and let me see you smile.” She gave me a smile — and a chuckle, too.

I try to abide by the recommend preventive measures and to continue living my life one day at a time by doing what I described in this essay. What might tomorrow have in store for me? I’ll deal with that tomorrow.

Joel Freedman of Canandaigua is a frequent Finger Lakes Times essay and book review contributor.

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