I’m pretty sure there is only one thing on everyone’s mind these days, or many things that all have to do with one overriding concern. I am sure that we are all getting tired of the word, tired of worrying that we might get sick or someone we love might get sick, or that we might unknowingly have “it” and pass it on to someone else inadvertently. I’m pretty sure we are all weary and oversaturated with worry and questions and uncertainties. I know I am. But at the same time there is only one thing to talk about.
By now we all know that our lives have changed, the country has changed, the world has changed. What form that will take for all of us remains to be seen. I think we also all know by now, I hope we do, that aside from the important individual concerns related to personal physical health, there is one overriding concern, one thing we have to do as a society, and this is to protect the medical system from overloading with too many cases at once. And we accomplish that by staying away from each other.
This is “social distancing.” Slow the transmission so that fewer people get sick at once. Allow the medical system to handle fewer cases at once. Try to avoid what is happening in Italy.
All of us will have our own parameters around social distancing. Some I have talked with feel okay about meeting in small groups. Some feel that as long as there is a six-foot separation between people all is well. Some take it more to heart and are avoiding people altogether. Some of us are more susceptible to worry, and that is okay. We all have new and difficult decisions to make: whether to attend a very small celebration, whether to disappoint people by not attending, whether to visit our elderly mother, when to stop going out at all. We are all fearful for our loved ones and for ourselves. None of us wants anyone to get sick. But this is going to happen. Each of us has to do the best we can for ourselves and the people we love.
I fall on the very cautious end of the spectrum. I won’t say that in the previous normal I was a germophobe, but I was definitely more aware of germs than most people I know. (To give you an idea, I bought the quart-sized bottle of Purell six weeks ago, not kidding.) I am also over 60, have not-so-great lungs from all the things I smoked in my youth (seriously, let that be a warning, youth, not to do that), and want to stay alive not only because I don’t want to die, but because I don’t want my daughter to have a dead mother. If I am somehow sick and don’t know it, I don’t want to inadvertently pass it on to anyone. And I want to do my part to protect the medical system and help it continue to function.
Like many of us, these things are on my mind all the time now. So I am very careful. This is my comfort level. I would rather be on this end of the spectrum than the less cautious end, and of course in my worldview we should all be more, rather than less, cautious.
This is hard. It will get harder. We need to remember that we are all asking new questions, some of which have no answers yet. We are all making new decisions, and we are all uncertain. Anxiety is high. The news is alarming. Many things don’t look very promising. All of us are going to be challenged in different ways. As a society we are going to be changed. None of us know what this is going to look like. In that, we are all the same.
Someone sent me a message the other day. I think he had been watching too many videos of panic shopping, and what he said was, “The veneer of civilization is very thin.” I don’t believe that. We are better than that. Later that day, I saw on Twitter a video of a street in Siena, Italy, at night, unseen people singing in harmony from their windows. I watched it so many times. I will watch it more. The beauty of it filled the heart and also broke it. We may be socially distant, but we are all in this together.
Have hope. Find beauty. Try to have a routine for your days. Ration the amount of time you are consuming news. Be cautious. Be patient. Be as understanding of others and of yourselves as you can. I want you to know that I feel you out there and I am thinking of you. Things are frightening, and it is likely that they will get more so. But we are here together. Sing if you can.
Catherine Goldhammer is the author of “Still Life with Chickens: Starting over in a House by the Sea.” She lives and writes in Hull.