Conversion Process and Personal Stories
037: 40 Days and 40 Nights in Quarantine: What’s in a name?

037: 40 Days and 40 Nights in Quarantine: What’s in a name?

Today marks 40 days in quarantine for me give or take Trader Joe’s visits, a small work move, a big house move to a different county, and a couple clients at the very start. And like many I’m anxious, angry, tired all the time, and trying to accept the new normal.

Rabbi Susan G quoted this lovely Guardian piece at our Passover Seder and I was intrigued by some of the histories of these words.

Disaster originally meant “ill-starred”, or “under a bad star”, and:

The word “crisis” means, in medical terms, the crossroads a patient reaches, the point at which she will either take the road to recovery or to death.

“Emergency” comes from “emergence” or “emerge”, as if you were ejected from the familiar and urgently need to reorient.

“Catastrophe” comes from a root meaning a sudden overturning.

Rebecca Solnit, The Guardian

Also notably, quarantine is a Venetian word for a 40-day period. If only it were over now!

Don’t go on a cruise.

40 Days and 40 Nights has a big significance in the Torah; some take it to mean a very long time, not an actual measurement of time. It’s more than 10% of your year; it’s that point where you’re beyond restless, or maybe you’ve gone through a couple cycles of restlessness to fatigue and back again, like waves hitting those poor quarantined people on boats during the black death, or more recently on cruise ships.

And we sure are in a catastrophe, a sudden overturning, a period of trial or testing. Or a period of revelation and getting a spiritual download, like Moses did (twice!) at Sinai for 40 days.

Solnit details the developing injustices of this and other catastrophes, the terrible, on-the-ground things that seem impossible yet spiral daily. I won’t get into those, I spend enough of my day irate at our country’s murderous leadership. So I’ll leave you as she leaves us, with hope:

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, carbon emissions have plummeted. Reports say the air above Los Angeles, Beijing and New Delhi is miraculously clean…

When a storm subsides, the air is washed clean of whatever particulate matter has been obscuring the view, and you can often see farther and more sharply than at any other time. When this storm clears, we may, as do people who have survived a serious illness or accident, see where we were and where we should go in a new light. We may feel free to pursue change in ways that seemed impossible while the ice of the status quo was locked up. We may have a profoundly different sense of ourselves, our communities, our systems of production and our future.

Rebecca Solnit, The Guardian

Some of the impossible happened remarkably quickly: A bipartisan move to expand unemployment insurance, calls for universal basic income, universal healthcare, and finally—FUCKING FINALLY—real urgency by major metros to house and tend to the homeless. We won’t, we can’t go back, no matter what transpires in November, to the feudalism that America celebrates and has foisted upon us. Once this specific misery and death passes we must work to end the others.