It was only an onion. Half an onion, actually. I was going to throw it away. It had been on the cutting board for a few hours. In the time of pandemic quarantine, Daddy’s work on the computer gives way to dinner time, which gives way to bath time, which gives way to toothbrushing time, which gives way to bedtime and its stories about Billy Hennessey the Famous Tiger Hunter.
When the tigers have all been hunted, lights out gives way to a cold beer and a seat next to my beautiful wife on the couch. Cleaning up the kitchen comes last. By the time I got around to it on this particular night, the half onion was looking tired. Onions do poorly in the open air.
If I thought about it I’d have to say we throw away far too much good food: bruised bananas, elderly potatoes, cereal that just didn’t get eaten in time. It’s shameful, but only when you think about it. Most of the time you don’t. The great world spins, the fridge fills up and you say, “Soon it will be summer and we can have blueberries for breakfast and watermelon at lunch and won’t that be the snaps.”
So I deemed the half onion on the cutting board not worth saving. There’s usually a bag full of them on the bottom shelf in the kitchen and sometimes when you reach for one it has a green shoot growing from the top. I’m not sure if those are safe to eat or not.
A yellow onion costs what—30 cents at the store? Why settle for one that isn’t perfect?
Then I had a terrible thought. This coronavirus thing has come on so strong, so quickly. Six weeks from now will I wish I hadn’t wasted that onion? A vision came suddenly, as visions often do, of a broken society, a paralyzed economy, of complete chaos, the kind of place where you can’t get a roll of toilet paper, much less an onion.
I’m sure many have had similar visions in recent weeks. But such is my faith in this country’s resilience that I picked up the half onion and launched it toward the wastebasket with a flick of the wrist, like John Starks. Swish.
I wasn’t going to write about the onion. I was going to write about the sabbath, the Lord’s Day, the day of rest. I was planning a meditation on family and leisure in a culture of distraction. I was going to tie the enforced isolation of our pandemic spring to an assignment Clara was given at her new high school, Cardinal Kung Academy in Stamford: Arrange your weekend in such a way that Sunday can truly be called the sabbath day. Now that’s the kind of assignment you don’t get in a public school.
“Whatever you do, try to keep it light,” my wife told me as I went upstairs to write. “People don’t want to read things that are sad and depressing right now. They want to laugh.”
“Too late,” I said. The onion thing had already settled in my brain. Onions have so many layers.
In Italy they are throwing away people. The Italian health system is so strapped that doctors are doing the unthinkable, rationing care and leaving those deemed unlikely to recover—the old, the weak, the already sick—to their fate. Of course, their fate is death.
A trio of health experts wrote recently in the New York Times that we should expect such agonies will be necessary here.
I’m troubled by all this, as perhaps you can tell. My father is 85. He has all the health concerns normally associated with the later stages of this mingled yarn called life. My mother-in-law is 79. Her hearing isn’t so good. My Magdalena has Down syndrome. Society already doesn’t feel like it needs an excuse to throw lives like hers away.
What will become of us in this time of trial, separated as we are from our places of worship, watching Sunday mass on the computer like teenage gamers, kept away from our sacraments and at a social distance from our priests? What will become of our neighbors and friends, our communities, our country? I suppose it’s in God’s hands, as all things must be.
Keep it light, she said. Okay. Soon it’ll be summer. The bans will have lifted and the bars will be full. The shows will all have gone on. There’ll be good news on the radio, sun in the outfielders’ eyes, and fireworks on the Fourth of July. We’ll have a cook-out in the backyard. All our friends will be there, eating hamburgers, hot dogs, and watermelon slices. I’ll have a cold beer in the shade.
And won’t that be the snaps.