Somewhere in the cosmos it must be possible to detect the grand rhythm of the planet Earth emanating from its core to its jungles. Imagine the ear-to-the-seashell sound swarming up on some imaginary, very delicate measuring instrument able to detect human audial interaction from, say, the crowds at Piccadilly Circus to the bird squabble of jungles and the roar of Victoria Falls.
Then, on our side of the planet, from Time Square to the prairie where a lone rancher might, at this moment, be sitting strumming his guitar on his rickety front porch. Just imagine it! And let us not leave out the roar of the waves breaking along the ocean and gulf coasts and in the rocky shoals of Lake Superior and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Blended, it all might resemble the effusive finale of our National Anthem. Or “God Bless America.” Or, perhaps, “America the Beautiful.” We might hear crickets chirping along the ridges of those “Purple Mountains majesty.”
So what sound announced the coronavirus’s release? The release of that otherwise silent, invisible-to-the-naked eye microbe into the vastness of earth?
I speak of the virus that has, for nearly two years, brought the entire planet to heel and plunged every mortal into panicked pandemic mode, including, for instance, even occupants of any ocean-going vessel far from any infected port of call who might nonetheless fear that one of their cruise ship hosts might be transmitting this unseen microbe to them on the three-inch circumference of the glass of sherry they’ve gently proffered to them. My imagination envisions such once unimaginable things.
Yes, what sound did it make? Was it the airy rush of a laboratory tray being opened in the wrong manner under the wrong circumstances, carelessly violating some lab protocol at exactly 3:23 p.m. one Wuhan afternoon? Was it the faintest of sounds made by the accidental shattering of a small lab beaker?
It was that sound at that moment, whatever and whenever it was, that has for so long painfully trammeled our civilizational interactions. And there is beginning to emerge, reluctantly, a scientific consensus that, unbelievable as it seems, the billion-plus occupants of Planet Earth at this moment early in the 21st Century, have seen our lives transformed, possibly irrecoverably, by a Goof Heard Round the World.
How might one write that in Chinese? For there seems little disagreement that the virus began in Wuhan, China.
Now we have a new report that investigators have not been able to definitively conclude just yet that this virus somehow began in nature, not as an accident. They cannot at this point prove it jumped from an animal to man at, say, a Chinese wet market. That was the theory favored and then initially foisted on us at the outset — by experts.
Yet, last January 4 — I write here on August 25, 2021 — New York magazine carried a cover story by Nicholson Baker strongly suggesting, while not exactly concluding, that the coronavirus pandemic could well be the result of a laboratory accident in Wuhan. On January 15, the U.S. State Department released a fact sheet about the virus’s origin that drew no conclusions, either, but added one curious new detail:
The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the (Wuhan Institute of Virology) became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses. This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was ‘zero infection’ among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses.
It has been reported that “from the first days of the pandemic, the Chinese government arrested doctors, suppressed warnings, and denied that the virus could spread one person to another. We have heard that Chinese officials have dragged their feet with the World Health Organization. Xi Jinping and the rest of China’s ruling cohort clearly don’t want a full and thorough investigation.
So I ask a vital question, like the anonymous author of that famous Zen koan who asked, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”
I ask, what is the sound of a lie? Of a string of lies?
Of an insistent, broken-rhythmed rhapsody of mendacity?
Listen! Is it coming from Wuhan? From Washington?