Do you remember? There was a time before this. It was happy, carefree. We hugged and kissed, laughed and cried, gathered and celebrated, came together and mourned.
That was then.
Then there is now, the present tense. We remember to keep apart. We shun others. We disinfect hands — not shake them. And we shed tears.
This is now. This is 2020. This is the year of coronavirus — nine months of pandemic that has filled this current year, will be present in our future, forever in our past. It is a year like no other where so far, nearly 80 million have contracted Covid-19, 1.7 million have died — and we all feel its effects physically, mentally, emotionally. And you are a liar, my friend, if you have not.
If there is one thing this coronavirus has thought us it is this: We are indeed all equal. It matters not our status nor our smugness, our differences nor indifferences — we are each equivalent and as susceptible as the next, as vulnerable to this virus as each other and because of each other. It invades where we interact, contaminates as we connect, kills as we commune.
O solitude, my sweetest choice!
Places devoted to the night,
Remote from tumult and from noise,
How ye my restless thoughts delight!
Those words were written in 1685 by the poet Katherine Philips yet seem so apt now in this year of pandemic. The hardest lesson from 2020 is that we are better apart.
The first time I wrote of this virus was on January 25 when authorities in Wuhan were coming to grips with the initial outbreak that seemed to spread so quickly. The Chinese Lunar Year holidays — a time when families travel great distances to reunite and celebrate — were getting underway. How draconian it seemed then to shut Wuhan down. How foreign it felt to our sensibilities. But that was then.
We watched too as the north of Italy announced their first cases in the early days of February, a spread that seemed to come out of nowhere. A localised outbreak of what must be a bad dose of winter flu. Our public health capabilities would stop this in its tracks, no doubt. Besides, it seemed as if only those with “compromised immune systems” were at risk. Oh, how we apply clinical labels to isolate ourselves when what we are really saying is that the sick who are vulnerable and we’re all right. Yes, those with compromised immune systems would be the collateral damage to this coronavirus.
But how wrong and smug we were.
France and Spain, much of Europe and then the Middle East too close borders, shut down. Lockdown. How often have we used that phrase these past long months? Lockdown. It became shorthand for staying at home. In peacetime — hopefully so few of us ever now wartime — our freedom of movement became a liability. Our shopping malls and social halls, buses and businesses, workspaces and gathering places became a danger to our health. We learnt the phrase “social distancing” and shunned the nearness of others. We wore masks to shield our noses and mouths and hide the fear that gnawed at our hearts. And yes, we were afraid.
We were afraid that we might catch this hidden enemy, this viral onslaught, this modern plague that so many looked — and still do — at conspiracy theories and masterminds of malevolent microbes. They checked their smart phones and dumbly concluded that 5G was to blame or some other cabal of Covid druids were somehow to blame.
Surely Mother Nature could not do this to us? We build and trade, expand and profit, construct and destruct, have knowledge and science, and we are the masters of this our universe on this shrinking blue planet we share as we see fit.
But this pandemic has changed that. It has shaken us from our smugness and shattered our security. And it has underlined our economy, our business, our work. Those who count the cost of such things say it will take at least three years to recover from this pandemic — most likely longer.
And there are those who can never recover. Around this world, wherever we are from, where we are now, there are too many who have lost so many so far. And there will be more to count.
These past days have shown how this coronavirus has mutated and changed, outfoxed our best efforts, kept us on our toes. This conflict is not over even if we have finally unlocked its microbial secrets and managed to develop a series of vaccines that will restore normality — just not life as we knew it. For we are all changed forever.
These past months have shown us that we must never again take for granted the freedoms and liberties of our daily lives. When we can, we must hold loved ones close and close our minds to the trivial loves that kept us apart. We are better together.
Covid has shown us that when information is shared, resources pooled and the greatest need calls for great deeds — yes — we can succeed. We have been overcome and we overcame.
What did you do during the pandemic, our grandchildren might ask one day. Will you be proud to say that you followed the advice, wore a mask, kept apart, held your nerve and did your best to ensure that each and every one of us got through this together. Yes, you rolled up your sleeves and washed your hands, then rolled up your sleeves when the vaccine became available.
Or will you be proud to tell your grandchildren that you ignore the science and the advice, was a covidiot, ignored it all and was a subversive super-spreader who harmed your fellow man.
I know what I will tell mine.
But when I think upon my own,
I hate it for that reason too,
Because it needs must hinder me
From seeing and from serving thee.
O solitude, O how I solitude adores!