COVID-19: One Big Cootie

If you grew up in the 60s, then I hope you have watched the movie That Thing You Do. This film was written and directed by Tom Hanks.

And while I am no expert, the movie perfectly captures the life cycle of a one hit wonder band. In fact, the name of the band created and followed in the movie eventually is named The Wonders.

Hanks spares no details in telling the story of The Wonders. From their humble beginnings to a top ten hit with all of the ups and downs in between. The actors and actresses cast are perfect. And so are the sets and all of the props. 

The soundtrack for the film matches the popular music styles from that era complete with the disc jockeys who play the songs on those local AM radio stations.

Along with writing and directing the movie, Tom Hanks plays a pivotal role as Mr. White, an A&R (Artists and Repertoire) executive from Playtone Records.

In real life, The Wonders hit record “That Thing You Do” was actually written by Adam Schlesinger a bass player and songwriter in a real band —The Fountains of Wayne. If you listen to “That Thing You Do” your ears will automatically be transferred back to the British Invasion. There is even a scream before the guitar solo just like John and Paul could do.

But as real as the movie and the soundtrack are at capturing that joyful time in music, the now of everyday real life can be jolting too.

On Wednesday, April 1, 2020, at age 52, Adam Schlesinger died from complications of COVID-19.

In the movie, That Thing You Do, there is a backstage scene where Mr. White is telling The Wonders how important their performance at this show is for them. He points out a rotund man, K. O. Bailey, with a cigar who is an important local disc jockey. Mr. White refers to Mr. Bailey as “the biggest Cootie I ever saw.” 

Well, that’s the way I feel about COVID-19, it is the biggest cootie I have ever seen. But, here is the problem—cooties are basically fictional germs grounded in the playfulness of our childhood. There is nothing fictional about COVID-19. 

On the afternoon of Thursday, April 2, I found myself on I-85 working my way back to Richmond. The interstate message boards in Virginia and North Carolina basically carried the same communication: Stay Home. I had a valid reason for traveling.

Along those lengthy straight stretches on I-85, at times it appears that the road builders just cut a swath through timeless pine forests to make the road. On both sides of the highway,  long tall pines stand upright with other trees and undergrowth dwarfed by their size.

 At certain points along the roadway the green spring landscape is broken. Clusters of Eastern redbud trees unite together. Their purple blooms breakup the sameness found in the median and shoulder of the interstate.

Out of all the trees that grace the Middle Atlantic states, I think redbuds are one of my favorites. Clearly, they are a reliable signal that spring has arrived. But, I also sense redbuds are dependable and resilient. Plus, when their leaves form, they are in the shape of a heart. To push back this big cootie, COVID-19, we will need lots of resilience in our hearts.

Closer to Richmond, I pickup our NPR station. I caught the last thirty minutes of Fresh Air. Host Terry Gross was interviewing a British trauma surgeon, David Nott.  Dr. Nott has written a book—War Doctor: Surgery on the Front Line.

Toward the end of the interview, Terry Gross asks Dr. Nott to comment about those extremely intense, high anxiety moments when he felt like his life was on the line based upon the pending doom around him. For example, in the middle of a life or death surgery, the following suddenly happened to him:  the hospital is being bombed, the lights go out, and the personnel in the operating bunker with him leave out of fear.

Dr. Nott without hesitation admits, he does not pray everyday, he is not very religious, and he doesn’t attend church very often. 

And yet, Dr. Nott without any uncertainty acknowledges the following:

“On occasions where my life has been almost on the line, where I felt that within a split second, I’m going to die here … something happens in my head and I start to pray and I feel like I have a frequency band on the radio in my head that I turn on to. And I do go on to that frequency and I feel that I am able to talk to God.

And I do feel that he is listening to me and he’s listening to my severe anxieties at the time. And it gives me enormous comfort to realize that I am talking to him and that he is giving me some strength back.”

I am certain that you and I, (who knows, maybe even ourselves), know someone in our lives who have had similar Dr. Nott experiences in their lives. In those harrowing moments, in a matter of seconds, silent prayerful words are spoken. And then just as quickly, a form of relief or a solution can be felt by the person making the request.

So much for God being dead!

Dr. Nott is also involved in treating patients in Great Britain who are battling COVID-19. He says, “Treating this deadly virus is like fighting an invisible enemy.”

I wish COVID-19 was a harmless, whimsical cootie, but that’s not the case. Just ask the family of Adam Schlesinger and his children, and sadly thousands of other families.

Recently, I received a delightful handwritten letter from a former colleague at Hermitage High School. It has been 24 years since she and her husband retired to Arkansas. Unfortunately, her husband passed a few years ago.

In her letter, my friend told me she still loves to read. Interestingly, books about World War II are a part of her reading landscape. 

That made me think of Ray Lambert’s book Every Man A Hero. In World War II, Lambert was a medic. He was on Omaha Beach during D-Day. 

Once he landed on the beach, his work was nonstop.

At some point, Sgt. Lambert went into four feet of shoreline water to pull out a wounded soldier. With the weakened soldier in tow,  an approaching landing craft rushed in and dropped its ramp on to Sgt. Lambert. That blow knocked Lambert and the soldier below the cold Atlantic.

For countless seconds Lambert and the soldier were trapped underwater. The weight of the ramp prohibited any movement. Mr. Lambert thought his life and the life of the soldier he was trying to rescue was over. No matter how he tried, he could not move.

And then for some reason, the ramp went up. With the soldier still in his grasp, Lambert surfaced and gulped for air. Somehow despite breaking the fourth and fifth vertebrae in his back, Lambert made it to the shoreline with the soldier.

Clearly, Ray Lambert has reflected a lot about that moment. He has inspected the situation from multiple angles and asked a wide range of questions. 

But, here is what Ray Lambert has concluded:  “But, I’ve come to believe God had a hand in it. For whatever reason, I was meant to survive that day. I was meant to do other things after storming the beach and helping my men. I’m still working on what all those things may be.”

I think it is safe to say that COVID-19 is the biggest cootie of my lifetime. And I think it is also safe to say that pushing back COVID-19 will come down to two things: the same courage and strength that Ray Lambert exhibited on Omaha Beach, and God’s hands.

Remember, God is no one hit wonder.

Any doubt, ask Dr. Nott and Ray Lambert. 

And while you are asking, check on their hearts.

I think you will find their hearts to be just as resilient as the heart shaped leaf of the redbud tree.

And a quick reminder for you, your hearts are resilient too. 

Don’t even think about forgetting that.

 Because a big cootie can’t handle a resilient heart.

 Footnote:  Wikipedia and NPR sources were reviewed in the writing of this blog post. If you really want the scoop on cooties check out Jane C. Hu’s article in the May 2019 issue of the Smithsonian.

2 thoughts on “COVID-19: One Big Cootie”

  1. Always a good read Bill. That thing you do, cooties, Covid 19, WWII and God all tucked wove into a bit of inspiration.


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