Writing in the time of COVID-19: Day Forty

Today is my father-in-law’s birthday. He would have been 84. In the last few years, I’ve noticed more of Bob in the son I married. I wonder if Eric thinks the same of me. Does he seem more of my mom in me?

Today makes 40 days since I started this daily writing project.

Forty is a nice number. It has many religious overtones. It once rained on Kauai for 40 days and 40 nights, so people like to say. Forty days after the flood, Noah released a raven. Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. In Islam, the archangel Gabriel delivered his first revelation when Muhammad was forty years old. Some Russians believe the souls of the dead remain on the earthly plane for 40 days. In Hinduism, some popular prayers consist of an even 40 couplets or stanzas.

But the number also echoes an alcoholic beverage: 40s are a bottle containing 40 fluid ounces of malt liquor beer. Not that I’m much of a beer drinker.

In the entertainment world, there’s a comedy called This is 40. I haven’t seen it. It’s about a couple whose relationship is stressed when they each turn 40.

I remember turning 40. A year before I’d decided to stop coloring my hair, and, for better or worse, I haven’t colored it since. We moved into the skeleton of a house in which we now live when I was 40. And, then, we built our home around us. We slept in a downstairs bedroom, barely sheet-rocked, boxes and furniture stacked around a mattress on the floor. We cooked in the garage, using a grill and a microwave until the kitchen was completed months, maybe a year later. Penny was our dog then. I quit paddling canoes to help with the house, because I felt guilty going to the beach while Eric spent his weekends from sunup to sundown framing, plumbing, siding, tiling, trimming, and everything else that goes with building your own home. My 40s were a great decade. I went to graduate school and was awarded an MFA—a Master in Fine Arts in creative writing. More specifically, narrative nonfiction. I traveled the Hawaiian Islands writing about, mostly, conservation and people who interested me.

A little more internet search reveals 40 is the atomic number of zirconium and this little piece of trivia: Negative forty is the unique temperature when Fahrenheit and Celsius match up. Minus 40°F equals −40°C.

Sports has its own relationship with the number. In tennis, 40 represents the third point gained in a game. In Major League Baseball, teams consist of 40 players.

Forty quarters of earnings is the requirement to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.

In a marriage, forty years is celebrated as a ruby wedding anniversary.

In the game Monopoly, the number of spaces on the board is, you guessed it, 40.

In music, “40” is a song by U2; its lyrics echo Psalm 40. Not to be confused with “#40,” which is a song by Dave Matthews Band.

In math, 40 is a composite number, an octagonal number, and as the sum of the first four pentagonal numbers, it is a pentagonal pyramidal number, and none of that means anything to me. (But it probably does to my friend Anne’s husband David.)

And, then, there’s this: The word quarantine comes from the Italian quaranta giorni which translates to English as 40 days. That’s the length of time the passengers and crew of ships were required to stay on board before going ashore during the Black Death.


four nene
Four Nēnē

In Hawaii, the curve has flattened. We’re at 613 total cases, a bump of four over yesterday. On Kauai, we’re still at 21. Yesterday, 121 visitors arrived in the Islands, even with a 14-day mandatory quarantine still in effect through the end of May. Four out-of-state visitors were arrested for quarantine violations. They’re not the only ones violating COVID-19 emergency mandates. Two Honolulu men were cited for entering a closed area of Diamond Head State Monument. As of last Friday, 107 citations were issued for various violations associated with emergency rules. Quaranta giorni is hard.

Be well.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Anne C. says:

    This is delightful! Such a wealth of information and just fun tidbits. Perhaps especially, in this day, the origin of the word “quarantine.” I’d forgotten that. I love thinking about you and Eric building your home around you in your forties. I will ask David about that number (but he’s more of a Greek numbers kind of guy… I think? what do I know–it’s all math to me). I sort of expected you to say that forty’s a nice round number and you were going to sign off of this daily thing, but no! Yay! Something to look forward to tomorrow!


    1. Kim Steutermann Rogers says:

      You say David is a Greek numbers kind of guy. Well, I have no idea what that means, either! It’s all math to me, too!


  2. Susan says:

    So much I never knew about “40”. Thanks!


    1. Kim Steutermann Rogers says:

      Right? Me, neither. Quite fascinating, really.


  3. Noreen says:

    Thanks for the daily treat! I’ll understand if you need to take a break but will probably lose sense of the days. 40 days already. We have been blessed on Kaua’i .


    1. Kim Steutermann Rogers says:

      I’ve lost all sense of time. January and February have slipped into oblivion in my memory. I scanned my calendar of activities from those months, and I felt so far removed from them. As if they’d never happened. As if I’d read about it all in a book or something. Weird! Thanks for reading, Noreen!


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