The world is wide, but I still find it difficult to stay six feet from people. Especially in the supermarket, with everyone focused more on the empty shelves and dwindling selection than on who is passing by their cart in forced proximity. I suppose I’ve always known that with every trip to the grocery store I’m bringing home with me thousands, maybe millions, of germs. Germs from the shopping cart handle, from the produce that other people have squeezed and put back, from the buttons on the card reader. Lord knows how many times I have touched my face after shopping in public. And yet I’ve never gotten sick. At least not seriously sick. How ironic that what I need most to combat these germs – hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes – are nowhere to be found. What products were on the shelves have been bought. What inventory was “in the back” has been sold. Whatever remained at the production plants has apparently evaporated. There’s none to be found – the very things that can kill this virus on hard surfaces, on my hands, on my fucking face, for all intents and purposes no longer exist.
So that’s one problem. Here’s another: I don’t live in the same house with my kids. I also don’t live in the same house as my girlfriend. I want to see them all. My girlfriend, autonomous and sensical, allows me to come over, sleep over, and continue our relationship as if this pandemic had never been manifested on our lives (except that we can’t go out to eat or to a movie or a museum). After all, we’ve been in the business of sharing germs in extreme proximity for five years and it hasn’t killed us yet. We both take reasonable precautions in our daily lives and for me anyway, to be completely shut off from her for untold weeks is entirely untenable. We’re healthy and enjoying our time together.
My kids, however, have much less autonomy and they are quarantined with their mother in the house I once made the mortgage payments on. I have seen them in the flesh only once since this virus went viral. We went for a forty-five minute walk outside, at safe distance from each other, and it was delightful. Other than that, however, they have been locked inside like princesses in a tower awaiting rescue. Now I understand that whole families quarantining together over time creates stress and gives rise to a craving for solitude. In that respect, my living arrangement is one to envy. But feast or famine is a sad choice. We all have become prisoners of the coronavirus; my sentence, however, is largely being served in solitary confinement.
It truly feels that these are the worst of times. And there is every reason to believe that things will get even worse before they get better. Separations will last longer, daily practices will become ever more restrictive. As more business close, there will be less to do, and more people with less money to spend. No question, humans are taking a hit. But do you know who’s doing well these days? The animals.
I’ve seen dogs having the best time outdoors – just in the last couple of days I’ve been at or near a beach and a dog park and the pooches are in heaven. Imagine, their people are home during the day, they get constant attention and long walks. What could be better? Even the undomesticated animals seem to be enjoying an environment the way it used to be before humans were invented. There seem to be fewer squirrels getting run over, more birds feeding unfettered on the ground. Nature is enjoying a much-needed break from people treading harshly upon it. If there’s a better-deserved silver lining to this crisis, I can’t think of one.
How much longer? That’s the question we’re all asking. How much longer do we have to stay inside, stay apart, stay closed, stay denied? There is, of course, only one reasonable answer: As long as it takes.
Do you have what it takes to endure life during COVID-19 for as long as it takes? Can you continue to sacrifice for the common good? Hopefully so, and if so, what might be the reward – beyond eradicating the illness, if that’s even possible? Might we come out of this stronger? More unselfish? More forgiving? More aware? More careful and clean?
We know the answer: Of course not. When this crisis is over, we’ll all revert to the same human habits that threaten our world on a daily basis. So in a weird way, it may come to pass that in the future, we’ll look back on this episode as being the best of times. God help us.