There is a great white shark in the fish tank with me. Well, not really, but this is the best metaphor I could come up with trying to translate the old saying “there is an elephant in the room” into a marine theme.
This may be one of the most difficult articles I have ever written: There is no way to ignore the shark in the tank (her name is — you guessed it — “Corona”) and yet everyone wants it to be gone, wants to move on with undisrupted life, get the problem over with, and is tired of hearing and reading about nothing but this thing all day every day for much too long.
So how do I write an article that is both relevant at this time and not about the virus? It is actually impossible, and this article may reflect the state of a mind trying to make sense of a situation that makes no sense.
In my metaphor, I am a scuba diver and sit in the corner, with a tank of air to breathe out of while watching the shark in the pool. So far, the shark has not seen me. As I am hunkered down, part of my mind worries about running out of air, running out of food, water or toilet paper. Another part of me is curiously watching, wondering what the shark will do.
Around me, there are other animals in the tank. Most of them are hiding fearfully, others are still going about their daily lives undisturbed by the presence of Corona. On the bottom of the tank I notice a hunk of meat, a morsel of food that fell to the ocean floor during the shark’s last meal. Some crabs are scurrying toward it, sensing a feast.
Metaphor aside, in movies and stories sharks are often portrayed as senseless killers, which has given them a bad reputation. It has nearly taken their kind to extinction because of senseless human hunting.
According to a National Geographic article, there are about 100 shark attacks per year worldwide. Of these, one-third to one-half are attributed to great white sharks. Of the 30 to 50 attacks, most are not fatal. In most cases the sharks are “sample biting” and then retreat. Humans are not actually on their menu.
Please note that in this aspect the real white shark is nothing like the virus Corona, which has evolved to target humans. It is thanks to research and nature documentaries that the myths of the senseless shark killers are fading in the public perception — one more example of the importance of choosing carefully where one’s information and education comes from.
It is true that a big female great white shark can be 20 feet long, and it is also true that they have a big ugly mouth full of sharp and pointy teeth, which evolved millions of years before there were humans to be found surfing or scuba diving in coastal waters.
So, sitting in my pool corner, I would be about one-fourth of the size of the shark in the tank. Usually I associate being underwater with soundless serenity and weightlessness.
In my metaphor, however, I am connected through modern technology with a multitude of voices giving advice and trying to keep me safe. These voices are very confusing, and while telling me to stay in place, they also discuss how some people may need to be sacrificed.
I am beginning to worry more about what they are not telling me and what is going on outside of my fish tank. My rational mind is telling me that I can’t stay hunkered down for much longer, that I will eventually have to surface, no matter where the shark is. The latest voice told me to surface when I see an Easter bunny. It makes no sense to me, but it may be as good a time as any.
I will say this, however: If a certain person in power had not cut research funding on great white sharks and disbanded the pandemic response team just two years ago, perhaps there would be an ambulance waiting outside? Just as I think this, the shark swims by and I get a glimpse of — what is that? A gold tooth twinkling in its mouth? No — it can’t be.
I am an optimist and there is always a winning side to every situation.
Once I resurface, I can’t wait to look at the data on atmospheric carbon dioxide and other air pollutants. While the world is partially shut down, it has throttled down the constant flow of pollutants into the natural cycles of this planet.
This is like a huge scientific experiment on what happens when we reduce pollution, curb transportation and production emissions, and minimize personal travel.
The optimist in me hopes that we will come out of this seeing ways in which to live with less waste, focus on what is important and actually worth polluting our planet for, and call to order those who are leading us into the future. There is some amazing nature in everything if you look for it, even in an invisible great white shark.