2020 has been cancelled.
In unprecedented-in-our-lifetime acts of closure, everything — concerts, parades, sporting events, Broadway, zoos, museums — has temporarily shut down in the name of social distancing. This is a necessary and important effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
2020 is also the year of the introvert. Across the internet, the introvert jokes are coming on strong. “I have been training for this day my entire lifecrow the voices of Homebody Twitter. “Finally they say, “something I’m good at: staying at home and avoiding people!”
Then there’s me, an extrovert. As someone who enjoys the discomfort of being compressed by other people — crowded into the back seat of a car or piled by the dozen into a hot tub — mandated social distancing feels unbearable.
I’m not criticising the measures taken to keep our communities safe: I support the outbreak control efforts; I understand the reasons to distance; I’m complying, staying home. But I’m heart-broken.
Let us continue to find ways to join one another, like the groups in Italy and in Spain and in New York who open their windows or stand on their balconies and fill the street — if not with touch then with song and applause.
I know it’s not easy for anyone. There are real economic dangers here, in addition to the severe public health concerns — not to mention the frustrations of rearranging work schedules and the disappointment of cancelled plans — so I’m not writing to make light of the severity of the virus or the necessity of this distancing. I’m writing to remind everyone that social distancing is not the same as social isolation. I’m writing to mourn the (temporary) absence of corporeal forms in the same physical spaces.
See, the thing about me is, I love a crowd. Crowds are rowdy and joyous and noisy. I love many bodies herded together in contained spaces. I love a spectacle. I love a lot of noise.
This is important to me because my entire life I have been told I am too loud. “Use your inside voice, Sam,” parents and teachers whispered in my childhood. My friends must remind me to take a breath: “You’re shouting again.” Colleagues tell me they always know when they’ve found the right room for our meetings: “Because,” they say, “I can hear you from all the way down the hall.” They smile when they speak of my volume, characteristic of my personality by now. But I often feel chastened.
There are two places on Earth where I feel able to scream my words without considering a need for silence: mountaintops and large gatherings. Everyone shouts in a crowd, and no one cares. I live for these moments of chaos and disorder and noise: concerts, convention centres, parades, amusement parks, live performances. They are my favourite places on the planet.
The most recent large crowd I was part of was at a Jonas Brothers concert in September 2019. I was in a stadium full of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people — all breathing on one another, pressing into one another. It was messy and rude. It was hot, germy, disgusting.
But back in September, we had never even heard of the coronavirus, so it didn’t matter when someone touched their hands to your shoulders, shoved their chest into your back, exhaled hot breathy screams in your face. We were all just present, fully and completely in our bodies, and out of our minds.
We can close the space between us by being too loud. Let us keep our distance but make some noise together. It is not the same, but it is still holy.
I understand that for many people, even some extroverts, this kind of hot wild mass of bodies so close together is their version of hell. But to me, it is sacred. To be surrounded completely by other humans, to not want to be anywhere else but where you are — that is holy.
It is nearly spring — my favourite season — and the world is supposed to be coming alive. Right now, I wish I were in a packed stadium waiting for a live performance to start. Standing in a long queue for a roller coaster. Moshing in the front row of a concert. Jostling against other bodies for a prime piece of sidewalk at a parade. Or even squished too tightly on an aeroplane, a subway, a train. Anywhere but where I am, which is alone in my house cancelling plans.
Nothing lasts for ever. Not even coronavirus
It’s OK to grieve these losses and feel these desires, but social distancing is what we must do now so that we can gather again later. Until then, let us continue to find ways to join one another, like the groups in Italy and in Spain and in New York who open their windows or stand on their balconies and fill the street — if not with touch then with song and applause. We can close the space between us by being too loud. Let us keep our distance but make some noise together. It is not the same, but it is still holy.
Here is a sad, heartbreaking fact: Everything ends. The music stops, the lights come on, the confetti falls. People leave sweaty and shaky, strangers again. After my last concert, I couldn’t stop shivering. It was warm, even in late September, but without the calm, comfortable press of a dozen humans against me I felt cold. Everything ends, even the nights in a crowd that feel like they will last forever.
But this fact also gives me hope. Because yes, everything ends — even pandemics.
So chin up, my beloved extroverts! We will crowd again.
I’ll see you there.
— Samantha Edmonds is a writer and Ph.D. student in comparative literature and creative writing at the University of Missouri, US