To make sense of the chaos, or if sense is impossible, to at least order the maelstrom of thoughts and images in your head. Covid-19. The senseless jumble of letters and numbers that has shut down everything that we know as normal and real. It cancelled my son’s seventh birthday party. It made me a stay-at-home-work-from-home-home-schooling-cooking-two-meals-a-day mom. It forced me to see how alone we all really are, for everyone, mortified by unnecessary human contact finds polite excuses to stay behind their closed doors. Strangers at the supermarket pull their overloaded carts full of canned sardines and beans a meter a way from me, the safe distance, they’ve been told, tightening their masks, nervously playing with their gloved hands. The woman at the tax office jokingly asks if my ID card has been touched by someone outside the country, as I hand it to her. I smile, though I know she’s not really joking. She gives it back and outside, I secretly wipe it down with an antiseptic.
I lived through what I thought until recently would be the biggest disaster of my lifetime. I watched the second plane hit and the towers crumble into a massive cloud of dust from my balcony. What ensued was terror and grief, but, in stark contrast to this, it was a terror and grief that we shared. With friends, with neighbours, with strangers. We sat in a circle on a stoop and talked, got drunk, laughed and cried at a bar, held hands, hugged, kissed, had sex, made friends, and became family. Today, we wash hands, turn corners and close doors. Our phones and laptops constantly run out of battery as we manically reload newsfeeds and stay in touch with our loved ones in blue and and white boxes. Our kids feel our panic no matter how much we smile and tell them that it’ll all be ok, everything will be normal. That school will start. That soon they can play with their friends again. That we’ll let them hold the railing of the escalator again, touch the toys in the store, grab on to the handles of the swing in the playground.
Being barred from touching things, from door handles to your friend’s hands, can be overwhelmingly terrifying for a human. Touch creates a sense of safety, whether it’s to keep yourself from literally or metaphorically falling. Take that away, add a virus, and you have something so much grander than September 11. The enemy is intangible. Invisible. It can live inside you.
In times of crisis, write, they say.