Love in the Time of Coronavirus

By George Heartwell,
Grand Rapids Mayor (Retired)
Director Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

(with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez from whom I adapted this title from his Love in the Time of Cholera)


Covid 19.  We’d never heard of it.  Wuhan.  Who even knew where it is?  Suddenly this novel coronavirus, identified first in China, has come to dominate out world.  We’re all under house arrest.  We cover our faces when we go to the grocery store.  Our cars sit idle in the garage.  We pass the day reading, playing solitaire, watching the news…which, of course, is all about the coronavirus.

Ah, but now the weather has tempered, the sun fills the day, we get outside, hope springs eternal!

And I have fallen in love!

Don’t get me wrong, Susan is still the center of my life and, after almost fifty years of marriage, I’m confident that won’t change for either of us.  But Covid has given me license to take a new lover into my heart:  our Muskegon River.

The Muskegon River from the Pere Marquette Bike Trail in Big Rapids. Photo courtesy of Nancy Burmeister, Secretary MRWA

You see, I have loved this river since I was a child, but I had come to take her for granted.  She was there, reliably there.  I could be with her when I chose and ignore her if some other shiny thing caught my eye.  She always welcomed me when I came back to her, I never thought about the fact that she could miss me when I was away.

Covid slowed me down.  The virus showed me that not all the shiny things I was chasing are of ultimate significance.  Covid taught me that some things in life matter much more than others; in fact, some things matter supremely, matter eternally.  The Muskegon is one of those supremely important, eternally purposeful things.

So, I fell in love with the River all over again.

I fell in love with her beauty.  The sparkle of sun on her riffles.  The marsh marigolds lighting up her spring flows on the hillsides.  Her crystal-clear water.  All the living creatures that depend on her for life: those below the surface and those above.   Her sounds.  Her smells.  The feel of her, cold on my fingers when I caress her waters.

I also fell in love with her mystery.  Think of it: she flows at 2800 cubic feet per second (per second!), sometimes less, sometimes more (sometimes even MUCH more) and she has been flowing since the glaciers melted.  She will flow after I am gone, after humans are gone.  The River is the closest we come in this life to something eternal.   She sings, and her songs change with the seasons, change with the flow rate, change with the structure she flows over and around.   She has a way of comforting, of encouraging and strengthening.

Oh, how I love this River!

Norman Maclean wrote this, in his great novel A River Runs Through It:

“On the Big Blackfoot River above the mouth of Belmont Creek the banks are fringed by Ponderosa pines.  In the slanting sun of late afternoon the shadows of great branches reached from across the river, and the trees took the river in their arms.  The shadows continued up the bank, until they included us. 

A river, though, has so many things to say that it is hard to know what it says to each of us.”

Covid 19 will pass.  Yes, it leaves in its wake sadness and grief; but we will get through this pandemic.  If we listen to the River, to what she says to each of us, she will be here to help us and guide us through.

For her love I am grateful.