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Black. Black like ink. Like absence. Like the Nothing in “Neverending Story.” Not just black, but Vantablack: a surface that eats light and makes you feel you have a hole in your eye when you look right at it.

That’s what Groningen looks like on the corona outbreak map of the German Robert Koch Institut. Other areas of Europe are blushing red, sickly yellow, fungus-like orange, cartoon-vomit green, but the province of Groningen: black.

I was happy about the idea of giving that nebulous group of The Young the opportunity to get one quick shot of Janssen vaccine and admit them through the gates of the nightlife pleasuredome. That was before I knew that the policy was to admit everyone within hours of having had the shot. Ladies and gentlemen, behold this fine illustration of the term “too soon.”

The alternative, “get tested for access,” quickly became a rapidly hardening slime of overwhelmed digital scheduling systems, overburdened laboratories, sub-optimally distributed testing centers, long lines and—a not very surprising consequence—instances of access code fraud.

All of that whipped into a population that was barely 40% fully vaccinated at the time, and spiked with the completely understandable desire to make up for 1.5 years of flattening not only the curve but also many, many other things—and voilà.

I was upset, mesmerized (a 5000% growth in infections in one week?!), glad to be away from the cesspool, safe with Niels and Floris on the island of Schiermonnikoog, the only infection-free part on the map (alas, this changed after we left. It’s a small island, so 1 infection = immediate downgrade from snow-white to “approaching thunderstorm leaden blue”).

Then the floods came. To the Netherlands, Belgium, and especially Germany. “This used to be a small, friendly river.” Angry floods of water bringing cars, trash, walls, furniture, and throwing it against bridges and buildings to add to the debris. Houses floating away, villages flattened. Climate change leads to extreme and dangerous weather: excessive rain, flash floods. The group of deniers grows small.

In the news, mud-covered people, houses torn in two, brown water, stunned inhabitants peering over the emergency dikes raised overnight. Free sand bags, donated water pumps, freshly baked goods from the bakery one village down, shovels, batteries. Total strangers help each other out. The concrete, satisfying action of helping another person by shoveling mud from their basement. Versus the vague, at times delusional-feeling action of helping another person by staying at home or avoiding crowds.

Somewhere inside of me, I have the ability to roll with it and keep it together, like an adult. I know I must, I mustered crises before. But the hopelessness is strong at times, and strength hard to find.

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