In recent days, very recent days, there has been a shift. A mood of eerie surrealism and a sense of being unmoored from reality. Of being emotionally unravelled by our social media feeds, our inboxes and the silence in the streets. At 8am this morning I go for coffee, I locked eyes with a stranger, wordlessly we shared this strange, knowing look. Not so much fear but a mutual understanding that nothing is as it is meant to be.
Instagram is reminding us that we “are all in this together” and yet the actions of some (a minority) at supermarkets around the country suggest otherwise. Human nature at its worst, when people are at their most vulnerable. Clinging to what we can control even if that control is stockpiling toiletries and pasta. Who could have ever imagined that the disappearance of civility in society was at the point that security guards at supermarkets started allocating and rationing toilet paper. That these shops have to open up at a “special time” so the elderly members of our community can fill their trolleys without fear might well be a thoughtful act from the supermarket executives but it’s also sad indictment on society that it is necessary. I saw a statement on social media last week that said, “next time you want to judge boat people, refugees, migrants fleeing war torn land – remember we fought over toilet paper”.
There is a tradition that at the beginning of each new year, a Word of the Year is announced. Reference to an important word or expression in the public sphere during a specific year.
Social distancing may well be the word of 2020.
Minimise contact, avoid the general public, don’t shake hands, skip social gatherings, work from home, don’t visit the elderly, don’t go to a bar, a restaurant. Wash your hands, sing a song, use sanitiser (if you can find it), clean all surfaces, cancel school assemblies, cancel school, don’t cancel school.
We are so far from the roadmap, no one knows the way.
Yesterday I had coffee with a client. I have known her for a number of years, and we share a warm rapport. We are also similar in that we are naturally both affectionate and tactile and when we meet we would share a hug. Today though was different, there was an awkward hesitation to avoid contact and we attempted to make light of the situation but it’s hard to do this with something that feels so heavy.
Last night when my son came home he started talking about the sickness. He is six years old and his school pick up should be about the games he played, the lessons he learnt the fun he had and the books he is reading. His curious mind is processing things and he is worried about what would happen if the Easter Bunny got the virus.
Out of the mouths of babes.
My job is to keep him safe, to protect him from all that is wrong with the world, but it hit me last night that I can no longer do that and I felt enormously overwhelmed by the lack of power I have to do so. As Schadd and I sat down to dinner, my emotions threatened to derail me and Schadd, a man of few words, but the voice of reason simply replied, “it’s all going to be okay.”
You see, we don’t have to withstand this weight alone. Because even in isolation and social distancing the very time we are told to detach and disconnect is the very time we need to reconnect. Because what defines us is not our physical location, our employment or financial status. We aren’t anything without each other and without these connections.
Perhaps we will someday look back on all of this and realise how much we took our connections for granted. When we are potentially placed with the real and confronting prospect of isolation and there are enforced limits on social gatherings and work from home is no longer a luxury but a safety measure, when it feels like our world is shrinking.
Since earlier this year I have been attempting to organise a coffee catch up with a close friend. Conflicting schedules, work commitments, family, life stuff, our excuses seemingly valid and important but only with the wisdom of hindsight do I wish I had made more of an effort because she is now is self-isolation and more than anything I wish we could be having a coffee talking about all the things we use to talk about that now seem so insignificant.
We throw around platitudes such as “Are you okay?” and we hashtag #kindnessmatters #bekind and #soblessed, but these words have no meaning unless we demonstrate them in our daily interactions. Pick up the phone, lean in, ask for help, offer support, send a card, lead with empathy. As I write this I am interrupted by a phone call from a client checking in to see how I was. She was not ringing for any other reason other than to ask how I was. We shared a few laughs and by gosh you have to hold on to moments like this.
It shouldn’t take a pandemic to remind us what is important, but maybe it will.