Hovhannes Tumanyan was a genius.
When he wrote the “Foolish Man,” I wonder if he knew that over a century later, it would still be relevant. For those who don’t know the story, this is how it goes.
Once upon a time, there was a poor man. No matter how hard he worked, no matter how hard he tried, he could not escape his poverty. One day, in desperation, he stood up and said, "I have to go and find God, to see if he can turn my luck around."
On his journey, he came across a wolf.
“Good day, human-brother, where are you going?” the wolf asked.
"I'm going to God," replied the poor man.
"Well, if you go to God," said the wolf, "tell him that there is a hungry wolf, who wanders in the hills and valleys night and day, but can’t find anything to eat. Ask him, how long must I stay hungry? If he has created me, why can’t he provide me with food?”
"All right," said the man, and continued on his way.
A little while later, he happened upon a beautiful young woman.
"Where are you going, good sir?" the young woman asked.
"I'm going to see God."
"When you see God," begged the beautiful woman, "tell him there's a girl like me, young, healthy, rich, but she can't find happiness. What will become of me?”
"I'll tell him," the traveler promised and left.
He came across a tree that stood by the water, but it was dry.
"Where are you going, traveler?" asked the dry tree.
"I'm going to see God."
"Wait a minute, pass along a message for myself,” the dry tree said. “Ask God how can this be? I have matured on the shore of this clear water, but in both summer and winter, I remain dry. When will my leaves flourish?”
The poor man heard this as well, and went on his way.
He traveled so far as to find God. Under a high rock, leaning against a tree, there was God sitting in the form of another man.
"Good day," said the poor man, and stood before God.
"Welcome," replied God. "What is it you seek?"
The poor traveler explained to God that he should look upon everyone with “equal eyes” and to not spoil one, while darkening the life of another. He told God that he had suffered so much, that he worked hard and yet could never find enough food and many others who didn’t work half as hard as him, lived in wealth and comfort.
"Go now, and you will be rich. I will bestow luck upon you, go and enjoy it," said God.
"I have something more to say, Lord," said the poor man, and he told God the story of the hungry wolf, the beautiful girl and the dry tree.
God provided answers for all of them. The poor man thanked him and left.
On the way back, he came across the dry tree.
"What did God say about me?" asked the dry tree.
“He said, you have matured on buried gold. Until that gold is removed so that your roots can reach the groundwater, you will not become green," said the man, as he continued along on his journey home.
"Where are you going? Come and get the gold, it will benefit you, and it will benefit me. You will get rich, and I will grow green.”
"No, I don't have time for that. I'm in a hurry," replied the poor man.
He then came across the beautiful woman, who stepped out in front of him.
"What news did you bring me?"
“God said, you have to find an intimate life partner for yourself. Then you will not be sad; you will be happy and joyful.”
"Well, if that’s the case, I choose you. Stay and be my life partner,” the girl begged the traveler.
"No, I have no time to socialize with you. God has given me my luck. I must go find it and enjoy it," said the poor man, and left.
On the way, the hungry wolf was waiting, and as soon as he saw the traveler in the distance, he ran up and cut him off.
"So, what did God say?"
“Brother, on my way to see God, after bumping into you, I came across a beautiful woman and a dry tree. The woman wondered why she couldn't be happy, and the tree why it was dry throughout the year. I told God, and he replied. ‘Tell the girl to find a life partner for herself, and tell the tree that there is gold under it, once the gold is removed, its roots will reach the water and it will grow green.’ I came to them and told them the words of God. The tree said, ‘Come on, take out the gold,’ and the girl said, 'I choose you as my partner.' I said, ‘No, I can't. God has given me my luck, I have to go and find my luck so I can enjoy it."
"What did God say about me?" asked the hungry wolf.
“About you, he said that you will remain hungry until you find a foolish man. Eat him and you will be satisfied.”
"Where else will I find a greater fool than you to eat?" said the wolf, and ate the poor, foolish man.
We are living in unsettling times. There is little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has become a seminal moment. It has and will continue to test our reserves, our mental health, our ability to trust and comply with the rules set by authorities, and it has and will shine a light on who we are as a people and as a nation.
To date, nearly six million people around the globe have been infected and over 360,000 have died. Entire countries continue to be in lockdown, healthcare systems are in crisis, economies are collapsing, families are being ripped apart, people who would have otherwise lived for years to come, are dead. And while many experts had warned that humanity was due for another pandemic, no one was prepared. Not the World Health Organization, not the most powerful nations with the most advanced healthcare systems in the world, and certainly not Armenia.
Yes, authorities in Armenia initially tried to play it down. Yes, they didn’t take it seriously enough, like so many other governments across the world. However, when things started to take a turn for the worst, the Health Ministry kicked into action. During the first weeks and months, the government fully covered the costs of testing, care and quarantining. Whoever tested positive was hospitalized at no cost, contact tracing was immediately triggered and people who had come into close contact with a COVID-19 patient were immediately put into quarantine in sites across the country. Their lodging, food and medical supervision was covered by the state.
Yes, people fell through the cracks. Yes, the Special Commission of the State of Emergency didn’t work efficiently or effectively enough. Yes, the police didn’t enforce the rules and regulations of the State of Emergency. Yes, the Prime Minister relayed contradictory messages, as the World Health Organization changed its mind. Yes, the Commission could have maintained the restrictions longer, albeit at greater cost to the country’s financial stability.
For the record, however, let it be clear that, when the state of emergency was declared back in March, when all businesses except those deemed essential were shut down, when we were asked to self-isolate, to be prudent and careful, to err on the side of caution, many people scoffed, believing it to be an overreaction. We were given the opportunity to stand still for a moment and contemplate how our personal decisions and actions could impact those around us.
When we were told to stay home, to work remotely if possible, when we were given the opportunity for free healthcare, when medical staff put their lives and their families on the line to take care of our sick, when we were quarantined and taken care of for free, when school teachers, against all odds and with little experience, transitioned to distance learning for our children, when volunteers gave their time and energy to distribute food to the vulnerable… when we had these gifts, our “luck,” like the foolish man in Tumanyan’s story, we didn’t see them or appreciate them.
Now, three months later, as the numbers are rapidly increasing, these services might no longer be available to us. Today, we are being asked to follow three simple rules - wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, maintain physical distancing. It’s not a big ask. It’s simple. Look at it as a gift.
We were given the gift of time to slow the transmission, to give the healthcare system time to regroup, to expand its capacity, to prepare for the tidal wave. The tidal wave is now at our doorstep.
If you still believe that there is no global pandemic, if you still believe that people are not getting infected or dying, if you still think this is a conspiracy, if you still refuse to follow the safety regulations, if you infect someone else because you decided that this is a hoax, that it’s an evil plot to control you, to insert a computer chip inside your body via a vaccine, if because of your callousness, indifference and foolishness, there are not enough hospital beds to treat the sick and the doctor is forced to make a choice on whether to save your life or another’s, don’t be surprised if your “luck” runs out.
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