These past few weeks have been ones for the books. When I first started hearing about coronavirus, I wasn’t worried. In hindsight, I guess I thought it might be another SARS or H1N1 panic. I thought maybe in Wuhan, the government had been in denial and that was why they’d been hit so badly – they’d left it too long. I’d thought it might peter out. I’d thought, maybe, some of the coverage was hysteria, maybe tinged with some racism about Asians.
I was wrong. I’m worried now. Maybe there is some truth to what I’d thought before, but there’s a greater truth too: this virus is terrifying.
Here, we have been socially isolating for a couple of weeks. Schools are closed, restaurants are closed except for some take out and delivery. Any big group events are closed. We are restricting travel. Luckily, all of this seems to be working, and these rules seem to have been imposed in time to slow the spread of the disease. Other places, as we’ve seen, have not been so lucky.
Of course, even though we have slowed the spread here, we are suffering other consequences, namely mass unemployment, and all of the problems associated with that.
Don’t get me wrong: no one loves having to cancel vacation plans, or missing concerts or other events. No one loves having appointments cancelled and not being able to go about their daily life. No one loves needing to regularly disinfect. But we know: these are small things, compared to what so many in our communities are dealing with.
I’ve been seeing people, people who are still employed, still earning a steady paycheque, people in good health, post things on social media about how hard they are finding needing to make relatively minor changes to their lives.
Some people, they like to think suffering is not relative. I’ll see someone say something like: “My pain is valid!” when they are talking about their emotional experience about something relatively minor. I saw this a lot when we were struggling to have a baby. In my support group, there were women who’d suffered awful things – multiple miscarriages after years of trying, IVF failures after spending tens of thousands of dollars of their credit. And then there’d be someone who thought she understood what that felt like, because it had taken her three tries to get pregnant, and she was worried that second time that it might not happen.
Like, sure, that “pain is valid”, but read the room, you know? Maybe complain about that privately to your spouse or a close friend, but be a little bit self-aware that what you have experienced is not the same.
I think often of this essay by Sophie Heawood, about being a single parent. Particularly this passage:
Living outside the nuclear narrative will create so many jarring moments with others that soon you won’t speak, only nod. You will do The Nod when the nursery sends your kid home with a Happy Father’s Day card that she’s been made to copy her name on to. You will employ The Nod when other mums say they know exactly what it’s like being a single parent because their lovely husband works abroad for up to two weeks at a time. You will employ The Nod when 20 of your friends offer to babysit – three will actually do it and the rest, when they see you at a party, will ask what you have done with the baby, to which you must always reply with these exact words: “I thought I left it at your house?”
Gradually, you will realise that you, too, have made other people do The Nod all your life. That you moaned about your mum to a friend whose mum was dead, that you complained about being skint to friends who’ll never earn what you do, that you phoned in sick with hangovers when a colleague who lives with a chronic pain condition wouldn’t dream of missing work. A lifetime of selfishness will open up before you like a seam.
“A lifetime of selfishness will open up before you like a seam.”
A lot of people laughed when they saw the first line of John Kerry’s uncharacteristic tweet about Thomas Massie: “Breaking news: Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an asshole.”
Now, I’m not totally familiar with the Massie situation, but I do appreciate Kerry’s turn of phrase, and I do see some selfishness lately. A lot of people seem to be testing positive for asshole. And I keep thinking of that great old expression: “Get off the cross, we need the wood.”
Guys, get off the cross, we need the wood!