“We got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

No, this is not a prophecy or a warning from the CDC. No one, but no one, can predict the future. Jesus himself, when questioned about the last days, or even his own personal destiny, refused to reveal what only the heavenly Father knew. His whole life was only of complete trust in the will of God.

The quote is from “Jaws,” a 1975 summer thriller that, some of you may recall, scared more than a few people out of the water. It is, some of you may recall, a story about a rogue great white shark, who plagues an iconic New England beach community, not unlike vacationers to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket might frequent. The haunting musical score by John Williams, from its thumping, menacing opening bass bites, painted an unseen, dark and terrifying predatory menace.

One does not actually see the shark until at least halfway through the film. It is the unseen terror that the mind imagines from witnessing its devastating destruction, the human remains. Few people, in the end, are physically harmed by the attacks but, by the end of story, everyone fears for their life and the beaches are empty, the economy practically destroyed.

History repeats itself, it is said, and whoever does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it. In this time when we are experiencing one of those pandemics which, as history documents, recurs every 100 years or so, it is tempting to think of our experience as unique. And that may be so. No catastrophes are exactly alike, whether it be a personal tragedy, or one that affects many, such as war or some natural disaster.

Some elements, however, are quite predictable and, by anticipating them, one can at least find perspective. For some, the impact of the movie was so strong as to have created anxieties about the most common human experiences, like sleeping and going to the toilet. Without entertaining details, there were reports of people seeking the advice of counselors for fear of a shark leaping out from under their beds.

We must not minimize, let alone downplay, the devastation of COVID-19, especially for anyone who has lost a loved one after having contracted the virus. At the same time, we cannot ignore the growing awareness of the devastation accompanying not only the spread of the virus itself, but the fear this still mysterious predator has generated which itself has created so much emotional, economic and social havoc.

The most rational way to deal with this virus which we are slowly beginning to unravel is to continue to be open to experience as we see how it does and does not assert itself. The reports of the CDC and those following “the science” are evolving as more information surfaces. What we now know, and this according to the CDC, is that the most common source of transmission is hands to face. The wearing of a mask may restrain the spread of some droplets — the process of atomization — from someone who is infected, even if asymptomatic, which is not uncommon in some 50 percent of cases, according to some accounts. Given that hand to face contact is the leading cause for contagion — 10 times more aggressive than flu but much less than measles — the mask’s prime utility might be just to remind the wearer not to touch the face before washing.

The risk of contagion from surface contact is, again according to the recent CDC updates, not so much as once feared. And in any case, washing hands with soap and water, will reduce the risk. It is still counseled that close personal contact with those not living in the same household should be restrained and the six-foot physical distancing rule seems a precaution that should be practiced everywhere.

Much of this is, no doubt, congruent with what most readers have been hearing and heeding. But it bears repeating and reminding ourselves that, like the shark terrorizing the fictional villagers in Jaws, it is the unknown and unseen presence of the villain that is often as unhinging than the source of infection itself.

The best way to protect ourselves and our most vulnerable — who are our older and those with seriously compromised immune systems — is to wash our hands and to avoid close physical contacts. This is easy enough to remember. Fear will not help us do either of these better. The worst seems to be passing, but until the downward trend is certain, we will stay the course. Remember also that two of the best ways to stay healthy are to eat well and get a good night’s rest. 99 to 99.5 percent of those who contract this virus are recovering. So do not worry yourself to death. I am praying for all of us in these difficult times but am confident the Lord is with us and, if we use our good sense, we will emerge even stronger. Keep the calm.

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