The Common Cold will Live Forever

We would lose one of life's most precious minor obstacles if colds disappeared.

Human attempts to create paradise on Earth were widely assumed to have gone out of favor with the demise of the Soviet Union, but the ruling classes have proven us differently over the last two years of the coronavirus epidemic. This time, the elites' vision of nirvana is a world without coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.

In December 2020, at a time when vaccination optimism was at its zenith, New York Times health blogger Tara Parker-Pope spoke for many when she stated that she would continue to wear a mask in the future, "especially during cold and flu season." "I used to get ill all the time, but I haven't had a cold or sore throat in months," she stated. "I like not being ill!" Let us congratulate her for her candor: The elites didn't only want to avoid the coronavirus; they also wanted to avoid "being sick" altogether—now it all makes sense!

They're still at it a year later. As any trip to a typical suburban grocery store would demonstrate, many individuals act as if they have gained the means to entirely avoid airborne viruses: they wear masks, slide laterally to avoid others in aisles, and lurch uncomfortably if they meet paths with an unexpected stranger. Since it's safe to believe that anyone who exhibits such militant risk-aversion has been vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19, it's also reasonable to infer that these people are attempting to avoid not only breakthrough infections but, like Parker-Pope, the common cold as well.

But wait a minute: Do we really want to live in a future where common cold viruses are destroyed forever? Leaving aside the fact that the current cold and flu season has continued despite widespread masking and social separation among the public, it seems evident that most of us would miss the yearly rite of passage that is contracting a cold.

To begin with, if colds vanished tomorrow, a whole subcategory of good social norms would vanish as well. Sneezing has taken on the status of a taboo in the contemporary milieu, although before the coronavirus, the behavior elicited words of civility. "Gesundheit," some people used to say to the sneezers among them. "God bless you," or "Bless you," for example.

Before the coronavirus transformed the way we thought about infectious diseases, family members who got a runny nose, sore throat, or other symptoms were usually handled with reverence. Adults were given permission to stay home from work and lay in bed all day, not because of medical need, but because their illness gave them the "right" to slack off. Of course, children were permitted to remain home from school. Ladles of chicken soup were generously ladled into bowls. Kleenex boxes were amassed. Motherly admonitions to "take it easy" were issued. The television set was turned on, even during times of day when it was unlikely to be seen. How many of us sneezed while watching our first daytime talk program or soap opera? This is a culture worth preserving: the culture of the common cold.

In fact, being somewhat unwell with a cold may be an appealing proposition—consider Elliott's illness in Steven Spielberg's E.T. and Ferris Bueller's illness in John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Take note, also, of Elliott's and Ferris's respective parental figures' remarkably calm reactions to their kids' phony ailments; neither Elliott's mother nor Ferris's mother and father recoiled from their sons for fear of "getting" something.

We would lose one of life's most precious minor obstacles if colds disappeared. Coming down with a cold is exhilaratingly unpleasant: the sandpapery throat, the clogged nostrils, the dulling of taste (which is mentioned as if it's a coronavirus-specific symptom, although it's a feature of every cold I've ever had). However, it is for the best that we should suffer so much. The experience not only offers the immune system a good exercise, but it also teaches the soul a valuable lesson in endurance: we are reminded that life will never be completely devoid of discomfort, but that most types of discomfort will pass with patience and a little soup. There are few sensations more pleasurable than soldiering through a cold and within a few days experiencing that sense of sweet renewal.

Those who wear masks and jitterbug in the bread aisle to avoid other humans believe they have discovered an elixir, a means to prevent even the tiniest discomfort. Of course, the viruses that cause colds and flu will prove them wrong, but the pandemic has shown that so many unthinkable things are possible—houses of worship closed, businesses classified as "necessary," school conducted over computer screens, and vaccine proofs required to go about daily life—that it's no surprise that some believe they can go the rest of their lives without ever being told "Bless you."

For the rest of us, the present moment is a perfect chance to build our character: we may go through the aisles of that same grocery store without a mask, more concerned about the expiration date on the milk than whether another person is standing closer than six feet to us. We might tempt fate by supposing that someone, somewhere, is suffering from a cold, flu, or perhaps the omicron variety, and that we might catch it as well—and that it won't be the end of the world. It's not quite Theodore Roosevelt's concept of a hard life, but it's hardly nothing these days.

Follow us on Google News

Filed under

Recent Search