Thursday, 31 May 2018


Would you at any point in your life want to be described as 'truly infectious'? Professionally speaking, whatever your profession may be, in a general summing up of character or possibly a recognisable trait such as a laugh? Though such laughter if it's also the belly quaking sort is usually described as contagious which is, I think you'll agree, another dubious choice, despite the laughter being exactly that: caught and passed on indiscriminately, like disease.
Somebody's personality, I gather, can be infectious but naming it thus does make it sound rather unpleasant, as if one should be immunised against it or take precautions to avoid at all costs. Last year however 'truly infectious' was uttered by quite a few lips in homage to someone and with each utterance I almost recoiled. How horrid! 
I say almost because it wasn't pure revulsion for I understood its meaning was complimentary and yet something within me still thought: surely you could have used a more pleasing phrase, not just to the ear but to the eye.
The phrase every time immediately brought to mind Philip Roth's Nemesis, which is about the scourge of polio in Newark, New Jersey, 1944. The main protagonist, Eugene (Bucky) Cantor would not, I think, have welcomed being seen as infectious, either positively in regards to his work as a playground director or later, as he came to believe, as a carrier of the disease where the damage done was largely irreversible and often disfiguring. That he came to think this way of himself was punishment upon punishment because polio finally got him too and left its mark. It infected everything, whereas in the innocuous stage he was a witness, doing what he could when he could, and polio was the foe that none of the community could account for and were all in fear of. When it pegged him, with certainty despite lacking in evident symptoms, that all changed.
Of course it was a false accusation, and by none other than Bucky himself, because even if he was throughout the event a carrier it was unknowingly so; therefore he's blameless. He, even before, and upon diagnosis judges otherwise. I didn't however (in my reading) think that was the case: his catching of the disease was circumstantial. I rightly or wrongly concluded that when no answer from God was forthcoming he took it upon himself: willed himself to believe he was indeed the agent, which, as he suffered but survived, made him culpable and undeserving of any good that might later befall him.
It's easily done when nobody's too sure of the causes and everything's viewed with suspicion, including the very elements that give and sustain life: air and water and food. To think that these are poisonous must have been crippling even without contracting the disease that could cause exactly that. To exist alongside fear, in whatever capacity: man-made, airborne, poor sanitation etc., is strangulating and divisional.
History attests to it: TB, HIV, Aids and Ebola, because little was known and there was nothing to prevent its spread or effect a cure. In short, there was a growing list of suspects, rumour-driven and not evidence-based, because anything at the time of an outbreak was a likely source.
For Bucky, after his disengagement with God, to come to believe, firmly believe, that he's the most obvious and logical cause of much suffering seems omnipotent, even that it's a story he's had to tell himself to apologize for what he feels were evading actions when all along the God he was seeking answers from had provided him with the answer: HIM. It's very sad that someone's life could be so destroyed when others somehow make the best of what life offers: good or bad. But experiences can do that to you; it only takes one event to blow the positives to smithereens, which even the strongest-willed in the world find it hard to bounce back from.
Or be the same person after. The latter is often an impossible task, far less accomplished in full than in half-measures. A sort of existence and a lengthy wait for all associations to fade, if ever.
So, would you now choose to say of someone 'you're truly infectious'?

Picture credit: An Egyptian stele thought to represent a Polio victim, 18th Dynasty, 1403-1365 BC. Source: