By Stephen Lee, April 6 2020—
There is no more marvellously poignant line in Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’ magical realist epic One Hundred Years of Solitude than its last — “races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”
Contextually, the last passages of the novel pertain to a mysterious, indecipherable text and as translation finishes, a flood destroys the town of Macondo. It is a brilliant novel, one that discusses various topics without feeling overly preachy. The novel discusses colonialism in South America and the Banana Republics that formed throughout the continent, civil war and most importantly, nostalgia. Garcia-Marquez ended his epic on a discouraging note. Throughout the winding generational narrative, the characters continually repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. That the characters inherit the names and traits of their ancestors emphasizes this notion. There are dozens of characters named Aureliano Buendía — each Aureliano Buendía acts like every other Aureliano Buendía that lived. I have always interpreted Garcia-Marquez’ conclusion to mean those who do not learn from the past will not have their mistakes forgiven. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel that continues to be relevant as we watch the world sleepily slide into the same rhythms as the past.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the federal, provincial and municipal governments have gradually enforced stricter limitations on the public. It is a startling and unprecedented moment in our history requiring startling and unprecedented action. As much of the country closes, it is disconcerting to see people ignore government rulings. Governments are predicting that the peak of infections will likely not arrive for several weeks. People are dying from this disease around the world. And yet, people still feel they have the right to do as they please. If you leap to condemn every person who is ignorantly guilty of this sin, I will ask you to consider your own life. Have you been going out recently? Have you socialized, followed the same day-to-day rhythms as any other period of time? If so, then you are a filthy hypocrite.
Consider some global incidents of late. Thousands of sloppy American college students made their annual pilgrimage to Fort Lauderdale in Florida. These unbelievably hedonistic stooges cited their difficult student lives to justify their voyage. And when they became trapped in the area because of coronavirus, they pleaded to be relieved. I recently read a headline about thousands flooding Bondi Beach in Australia. These locals believed it was their right to use the beach, but also seemed to agree that tourists shouldn’t visit the location. An article from Business Insider penned by an Italian mother lamented her lackadaisical decisions to allow her children outside while the virus surged in the country. Even in Canada, we see conferences and physician sporting events sparking fear for thousands, collectively. In Vancouver, photos show people gathering on Sunset Beach and along False Creek. These stories swamp our newsfeeds, and yet people do not listen to the obvious warnings they tell.
The Vancouver municipal government has proposed a $50,000 fine for businesses ignoring restrictions, and the BC provincial government introduced a $25,000 fine for individuals. Two hundred physicians in the Lower Mainland of BC recently penned a letter to the chief medical officer to shut everything down. Various academics have also made this suggestion. Ontario and Quebec have shut down non-essential business. Trudeau has brought up the Emergencies Act as the last resort in Canadian policy. Canadians abroad are being stranded without insurance, with imperfect repatriation efforts starting. Trudeau recently admitted that the government cannot repatriate every person. Domestic flights are decreasing in frequency and restrictions now exist for anyone with symptoms. The situation worsens everyday as the number of infections continues to rise. We are living in one of the darkest moments of recent history, that much is certain.
None of this is new, per se — news networks are extensively reporting on the topic. But one thing that is missing from every report of a fatality is that someone caused that to happen. Although we cannot practically do so, each case can be tracked to an infected individual. The number of community transmissions are increasing across the country. The unpleasant truth is when the number of fatalities spike, someone has killed those individuals. What no one seems to admit is that this is involuntary manslaughter — someone gave the individual the disease and the individual died. When I continue to see people ignoring the government’s orders, I see someone who has not considered the true gravity of their decision. Most people are generally good, that is, they probably would not want to injure someone, let alone kill them. But these same, generally good people, disregard the severity of our situation out of flippant inconsideration. If this is you, then I ask if you can live with the notion that you might be committing manslaughter because you believe that you are invincible or entitled or whatever nonsensical justification you have. This is the ultimate display of hedonism — to indulge one’s selfish desire for pleasure at the cost of another human’s life. This is the weight you must carry, the grim realization you must face. You could kill someone over your own petty, first-world bullshit, hedonistic, entitled, ill-informed and near sociopathic desires. Consider this when you question the regulations. Are you willing to accept responsibility for killing an elderly person so that you could satisfy an itch? Are you willing to take a life? In this case, the bell certainly tolls for all of us, as John Donne wrote.
I find it ironic to watch people frolicking in groups, especially when these individuals are caring, cheerful, unapologetic optimists. These are people-lovers, yet they disregard clear directives to avoid contact. Those who disregard government directives must be willing to reconcile with the maddening prospect of unknowingly killing someone. Heed the grim warning set forth when Gabriel Garcia-Marquez wrote that “races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on this earth.” History will not be forgiving of our mistakes. History will not care about the self as Western society does. Instead, it will see crimson hands amidst a mass grave of avoidable dead. That is the future set forth when we ignore the problem. In this time, the ultimate display of a loving nature is to shut oneself away until it is safe. Let that be the legacy instead of death.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.