I never thought I’d renew this blog in circumstances anything like this, and yet here I am posting twice in two days, on a topic that’s entered our collective consciousness so swiftly and completely. I promise not to bombard you with Covid-19 ramblings every day – if I manage to reinvigorate this blog I’ll try to keep the old emphasis on fiction first and foremost, because I for one need the escapism!
But I’ve been thinking something about the disease and this seems as good a place as any to record those thoughts.
As modern Westerners, we’re not used to large-scale crises on our own doorstep. We read about them on the news and in history books, we feel sympathy and we may even be inspired to act, but it’s hard to empathise and the actions we take almost never jeapordise our own wellbeing. We are removed, and we are safe.
This taken-for-granted sense of safety has been apparent to me twice before in my life. In 2001, I watched the USA reeling from a terrorist attack on their own shores. It was shocking and terrible for all of us, the world over, but as a Brit, I was surprised by the depth of the reaction of Americans. And then I realised – I had grown up with a constant awareness of terrorism in my community. Although I had never (mercifully) witnessed it myself, I knew every time I went into a city centre, to a concert or on a train, that there could be an IRA bomb, or at least an evacuation, and I had seen the effects on the news when they happened. I hadn’t grown up scared, but nor did I find it mind-blowing that terrorists had attacked and killed people. Americans I knew didn’t seem to have the same level of normalisation to this type of violence, so their grief and fear and shock were heightened by genuine surprise that it had happened at all.
Then in 2009, I lay down for bed on a Sunday night and felt an intense pain in my chest. I couldn’t inhale fully and we rushed to the hospital for what I think was my first trip to A&E (the ER). I received treatment, stayed overnight and was home the next day with a diagnosis of Pulmonary Embolism and the medication to make it better. On Wednesday, I got the train to work. I lasted a couple of hours, then went home and stayed away for almost 6 months. It seems crazy now that I went into work on that Wednesday, but I genuinely had no idea I could be that ill. I’d never had more than a couple of days off at a time, and I know I now had the drugs to make me better. It was several weeks before I came to terms with the fact that I was really quite ill, and probably a couple of months before it really sank in that I wasn’t immortal.
All of which is a long way of analogising what the Western world is going through at the moment. Most of us, for the first time ever, find ourselves in an actual, day-to-day, community-wide crisis. There is something we can do, but it’s completely messed up the things we took for granted – popping out for cream just because we’ve decided to have cake for dinner, sending the kids to school or taking them to the park, buying enough bread to feed the carb-monsters’ daily cravings…
We are the ones who look on and help (or don’t), we are communities where one person gets terrible news and the rest of us rally round; this is not a place where everyone gets terrible news and the capacity for rallying is severely diminished by the need to stay away. We aren’t those people who queue for bread, wear face masks in the street and celebrate finding toilet paper in the store. Those people live in the history books and in the ‘Third World’.
And yet here we are.
We are learning to live with this new normal, and we will, because we are human beings and those people have much to teach us about the human capacity for resilience in the face of ongoing, universal crisis. But let’s not expect to go to work on Wednesday, or to carry penknives in our hand luggage for a long time to come.
We’re in this together… 6 feet apart.