Pandemic

22 January

Reflecting upon the changes the pandemic has brought into our lives, my colleague all of a sudden remarked that it’s strange that nobody has written a book entitled Living in Covid-19 Times. There are always a few smart souls who think that they have an answer to everything, so, one can find books on how to be happy, how to be popular, how to earn millions… Although the only ones happy, popular and earning a lot of money usually seem to be those who wrote the books, the question remains: why no book about the Covid-19 pandemic? Likely it would be a commercial failure as most people find this pandemic weighing on them and dream of returning to the “good old days”.

For years and years, my colleague had been analyzing the digitalization of our society and its effects on our lives. More than once, he said that we are on the edge of a new civilization, the digital one, but nobody, even himself, could have imagined that it would happen so fast, almost overnight, and that it would be a virus propelling us out our “normal life”. Indeed, a year ago, you would have been dismissed as foolish if you had proposed such a thing.

Now, we wear masks, we wash hands, we use hydrogen gel, we clean and clean… Most houses are so clean and tidy so that the usual winter diseases are almost gone. In addition, the TV channels broadcast video clips on the virus and what to do and not to do. Nonetheless, the numbers of the infected persons, the hospitalized, those in intensive care, do not decline.

Our meetings are on-line, almost everything is done on-line – shopping, banking, encounters of all sorts. While you are outside and whenever you see a familiar human face, you are so happy. It’s like you have won the lottery.

Looking back on the transition, one can wonder what has been the most difficult part. Was it simply staying and working from home, or combining taking care of family, children, pets, and carrying out one’s work, all to be done in the same setting, or the feeling that one has lost control over one’s life because of a virus spreading with the wind?

We did not realize to what extent we had complete freedom to move around and do things until it was all gone or almost, my colleague pointed out, sadly. Most of all, we did not realize to what extent we are, as the sociologists tell us, social animals.

An old saying comes to mind: you don’t appreciate the water until the well runs dry. So true… humans tend to fully value things only when they have lost them, not when they have them at hand.

We are nevertheless very fortunate not to have fallen sick, for the high numbers of people in the hospitals and exponential death rate are deeply disturbing. There are now more deaths from Covid-19 than from the Second World War, but because they are scattered throughout the world instead of concentrated on battlefields, it is hard to grasp the enormity of our losses.

Reflecting on our current confinement, my colleague went on: “Now you cannot even go to a café or a restaurant. Cafés, bars, pubs and restaurants have always been important places for socializing, and now they are all shut down until further notice. How many of us used to meet friends over a cup of coffee, or a drink? But now it’s not possible.” J.K Rowling, the famous author of Harry Potter, once remarked: “And the idea of just wandering off to a café with a notebook and writing and seeing where that takes me for a while is just bliss.”

David Suchet, who many might know as the actor behind the well-known TV series Hercules Poirot, put it this way: “I’m never bored, never ever bored. If I’ve got a day off, I’ll sit in a café and watch and observe. I’m a great observer.”

Eventually, later if not soon, we’ll once more be able to meet in person, at ease again with each other. And, despite the new digital world, there will be still be places for person-to-person contact and communication, outside the internet. As social beings who have been deprived of these precious human encounters, we’ll look upon them differently and – for a while at least – cherish them. Until then, let us persevere and make the most of what opportunities we still have for contact and communication, preserving and cultivating our humanity as we await better times.

Robert J. Parsons & Marit