Oncoming Storm

Opinion columnist Joshua Howell talks about upcoming changes and Aggies finding out who they are along with them.

Last weekend, the weather in College Station seemed unable to make up its mind. Such is life in Texas. But the trend made itself felt. On Thursday, there was a cold snap. There have been overcast skies ever since. On Friday, clouds began to sprinkle a drizzle that made the roads slick. Wary, I didn’t take the two-lane backroad to my apartment. It may be quicker, but it was too dangerous. It was time for precautions.

There’s a storm coming.

Drip by drip we see it play out. Drip. The Brazos County Health District has confirmed our first case of community spread. Drip. The university has moved all classes online and has given students the option of taking courses pass-fail. Drip. Duane Peters, the County Judge of Brazos County, has issued a shelter-in-place order.

Does anyone remember Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game?" Now the NBA has suspended their entire season. This isn’t the flu. This is a deluge.

A wise man once said, “and this, too, shall pass.” This is true. It is an aphorism both comforting in times of lacking and harrowing in times of plenty. Dr. Anthony Fauci — the wise man we need, if not the one we deserve — concurs. However, with the straightforward, no-nonsense demeanor of a man accustomed to relaying bad news, he adds the following: “Yes, the coronavirus, like the pandemics of times past, will one day be the stuff of the history books. But as for the immediate future, things are going to get worse, before they get worse, before they get better.”

Drip by drip his prognosis proves prescient.

Drip. The United States has restricted all travel from Europe. Drip. Medical professionals are already preparing to ration life-saving equipment. Drip. The U.S. Virus Plan anticipates an 18-month-long pandemic.

Late Friday night in College Station, one could see lightning in the distance, and after several seconds there was the sound of thunder. By nine o’clock Saturday, its boom, like great timpani drums played by Thor himself, was loud enough to shake the nearby apartments. Rain fell like curtains and battered the empty streets.

There’s a storm coming, but now is not the time to be deterred.

Another wise man — this one you may know — said that, in times such as these, it is best to “[l]ook for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And he was right. One should raise a glass of brandy to those H-E-B workers who keep our shelves stocked, the distillery owners who are crafting homemade hand-sanitizer out of high-proof alcohol, the people in self-quarantine who are making N95-Type masks to donate to hospitals.

This is the kind of situation in which you pray never to find yourself. But should you find yourself there, these are the kind of people you’d hope to be.

And on that note, if I may be so bold, I’d like to offer an amendment to Mr. Rogers’ accurate if incomplete advice. For you see, Mr. Rogers was speaking to children. We are not children. We have responsibilities. It is incumbent upon us not merely to look for the helpers, but to join them, to be the helpers toward which children can look. That means sewing N95-Type masks, getting groceries for a neighbor who can’t shop for themselves, or, as a friend of mine likes to do, simply giving store workers a squirt of hand sanitizer.

There is more to do during self-isolation than watch Netflix. No matter how small, whatever is in our capacity to do, whatever we can do safely, we must do it.

Sunday rolls in, and with it a dense fog. It hangs in the air and obscures everything in sight. Campus buildings, their outlines barely visible in the distance, appear as a congregation of great, lumbering phantoms ready to terrorize the town.

There’s a storm coming, and we as Americans, as citizens of Bryan-College Station, and as Aggies are about to find out who we are. My confidence is unconstrained. Right about now I’m supposed to remind you that Aggies may win, they may lose, but they never quit. I would, but I’m too much of a two-percenter to say that, even during a national emergency. (Pro-tip: Don’t let pandemics change who you are.)

So instead, I will give you this, courtesy of Tennyson:

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by Time and Fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that Fate himself has saddled up behind us. He has put his arm around our unsuspecting shoulders and, with malice in his voice, has whispered: “You cannot withstand the oncoming storm.”

We should grab Fate by the lapels and, like the warrior did before us, whisper back:

“We are the storm.”

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