OVID: I wish you would stop spreading.
COVID: I can’t. I told you. I’m a virus. Spreading is what we do.
OVID: But you’re wreaking havoc. Causing chaos. Setting society on its head. Not to mention the people you’re making ill and killing.
COVID: Yes, all that’s true. But you could look at it another way. You could say I’m providing humans with an opportunity. A much-needed opportunity, if you ask me.
OVID: An opportunity? It looks more like mass murder and mayhem to me.
COVID: Oh, stop being so dramatic. Being a dead Roman poet doesn’t give you the right to make me out to be worse than I am.
OVID: Worse than you are? That’s hardly possible. And now you say what you’re doing is really giving humanity an opportunity? You’re a virus, not an opportunity.
COVID: Why don’t you let me explain?
OVID: Hmph. All right, explain.
COVID: Good. Thank-you. Ahem. Well, you see, it all comes down to this: it’s not me humans should be afraid of, it’s themselves. Their greed and drive towards money and power. It’s leading them to value money above environment, power above life. Basically, it’s leading them to utter destruction. Agreed?
OVID: Hm. It’s hard not to agree. But I don’t hear an explanation in there.
COVID: I’m coming to it. Here it is. Ahem. Eventually my spreading will stop. Sad, but true, I won’t be able to keep infecting them forever.
OVID: Yes, so why not stop now?
COVID: Please don’t interrupt. And I’ve told you, it’s my nature to spread; there’s nothing I can do about it. But humans can stop me, and eventually they will. And – and here’s the thing – if I can mange to spread so widely that human societies nearly grind to a halt, well, there’s their opportunity!
OVID: Still not hearing an explanation.
COVID: Oh, all right, I’ll spell it out for you. The pandemic of me, or at least its ending, can be a moment of opportunity. A moment when humans can decide whether to rush back to their self-destructive normal, or to improve themselves. Ah! Don’t interrupt! A child who sees that its half-built house of blocks is no good, sweeps the blocks onto the floor and starts to build a new, better house. A writer, dissatisfied with what he has written, tears out the pages of his notebook and starts again on a clean page. Better yet, in a new notebook. Do you see? I am giving humans the opportunity to do the very same, on a grand scale. The opportunity to begin to measure life in units of humanity instead of units of economics and power. Do you see?
OVID: I do. But, oh, Covid, Covid, Covid. For a virus, you’re very naive.
COVID: Naive? Me? A minute ago you were calling me a mass murderer.
OVID: You are. But a very naive one. Do you really think – No, let me ask you, are you familiar with my most famous published work?
COVID: No. A virus doesn’t do a lot of reading.
OVID: I suppose not. It’s called Metamorphoses. And it begins like this: “I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities...” That’s what metamorphosis is, you see, changing from one thing into something quite different. Oh, it was a grand work, fifteen books, nearly 12,000 lines. I won’t trouble you with a recitation.
COVID: Thank goodness.
OVID: Hmph. I listened to you. Now you listen.
COVID: Oh, all right.
OVID: Well, I rather cleverly told the tale of all of history, from the very beginning to the death and deification of Julius Caesar. I was born the year after he died, you know.
COVID: I didn’t know that.
OVID: I was. Anyway, in this work I included all the changes, the metamorphoses, that I knew of. Myths, history, everything. It was really quite an influential work, if I say so myself.
COVID: Which you do. But what’s your point?
OVID: I’m getting to it. You see, I died when I was sixty, or thereabouts, but by then the tale of the unfolding of the world had become so fascinating to me that I just couldn’t let it go. So I continued my observations, and kept writing.
COVID: Oh, so you self-published posthumously? Where can I buy a copy?
OVID: What? Oh, you can’t, of course. I was dead when I did this.
:COVID So, there’s no copy of your observations?
OVID: I didn’t say that. I said you couldn’t buy a copy. No, my posthumous work is written on the Walls of Eternity.
COVID: The Walls of Eternity. Where would I find them, may I ask?
OVID: The Walls of Eternity are to be found in the Hearts of Humanity.
COVID: Oh, good grief. Now you’re really sounding like a poet. Dead or otherwise. I’m still waiting for you to tell me why I’m naive.
OVID: Simply because, my dear Covid, in the 2,000 years of my observations, humanity has come to the brink that you think it will soon reach again, more times than I care to count. Wars, pestilence, plagues, disasters both natural and human, have come and gone and come and gone. Yet always, somewhere, there were pockets of reason and decency, of desire to change. So, for a few centuries I thought, oh, now they will change their tactics, their ethos, their way of being human. But they never did. They careered from disaster to disaster, intent on, as you put it, measuring life in units of economics and power. The objecting pockets never grew large enough, or perhaps confident enough, to be more than pockets. No ultimate change, no metamorphosis, took place. And it took me centuries to realise that it never would. But I did realise, however gradually, and for centuries now I have known that humanity will never change. And that is why you’re so naive.
COVID: Oh. How very sad. How very tragic.
COVID: And yet you want me to stop, to lessen their suffering. Why? If you’re sure they have no intention of resolving things for themselves.
OVID: Hm. I wonder about that myself. I suppose it’s because, even though I’ve been dead for 2,000 years, I’m still human. Or was. And I feel for them.
COVID: I see. And I don’t feel for them. Not really. All I do is spread. Even though I may leave behind an opportunity, I’m just a virus.
OVID: Yes. And I am just a dead Roman poet. Though, you know, I can’t, well, I can’t help, I can’t stop holding onto a small sliver of hope. Despite everything.
COVID: Now who’s being naive? Well, it’s been nice talking to you, but I’d better get spreading. I’ll tell you one thing, though: I’d rather be a virus than a human. It’s much simpler.
OVID: Indeed. Indeed it is.
OVID: I wish you would stop spreading.