I hate waking up but I love coffee, so after 8:00 I’m willing to compromise. Anything before that and you’ll need a fire alarm to get me out of bed. So when I opened my eyes at 6:00 am to a dance of liquid gold coming in through the curtains today, I was like “ok fuck it, this hasn’t happened in years, I’m getting out of bed like a grown up”!
As many have already written, for those of us who are quarantined at home, days can feel oddly groundhog-esque in these times. The last years of grad school -when you no longer have classes to take or teach,- already take a toll on your sense of what is a weekday vs. weekend, and what is morning vs. afternoon. So when you add COVID to the mix, it’s just sunlight and clocks letting you know you where’re you’re at.
Still (and I am aware of the privilege in the mere ability to think these thoughts, as well as the suffering of so many others around me), a part of me is enjoying some aspects of the quarantine. There is something oddly monastic going on in the lulling rhythm of days following each other like pearls on a necklace. The self-discipline it takes to stay sane and keep anxiety at bay (which for me involves a strong work ethic, daily meditation, yoga/exercise and going out for 1h-2h long walks… oh and trying to limit snacking/binge eating as much as humanely possible) is paradoxically making my routine healthier than it was in the winter, when the cold and the OPTION of being able to go out made me want to curl up in bed with a book and a box of cookies 🙂 [the sober equivalent of settling down with a nice cloudy IPA at the end of EVERY SINGLE day : wanting to hide in a cocoon instead of going out into the world and grow].
Now that our civil liberties have been (temporarily, I hope) taken away, it seems insane to not use the freedom to go outside and walk once a day, even if I don’t feel like it or if I’m running out of new routes, when most of my friends in NYC have not left their apartments in almost a month.
Yesterday I read (actually, I listened to the audio version as I was taking a nice long walk) an article by Charles Eisenstein, who asks the question of which post-pandemic possibilities are offered to us (humans) on a collective scale. Some moments got on my nerves, as my training in philosophy has made me allergic to any kind of conspiracy-theory or paranoia-inducing thinking. But as Eisenstein is himself trained as a philosopher and knows how to maintain a sense of rigor in the exposition of his thoughts, he ended his piece with a lot of nuance and toned down the somewhat extreme either/or alternative sketched out between one the one hand, a totalitarian society of control and surveillance, based on fear and the notion of separate individuals, and on the other, an open and compassionate society which accepts mortality, relinquishes the blind quest for material possessions and is more open to holistic medicine and practices, community, and reinvestment of the public space, even if that means that some of us have to die. The whole argument pivoted around the idea that it might be better to die at home with your loved ones than packed away in overcrowded ERs (or even nursing homes, for that matter) and die alone. And he does have a point – we live in a society in which death is the ultimate evil, to which every other value becomes subservient. Even happiness.
Eisenstein’s point was that we cannot use our fear of death as a justification to avoid living. That it’s better to go out into the world (post covid, that is) and take risks, than to live locked up all alone and at home, in the name of avoiding death – because death is inevitable, and it is better to live and die well than live in fear and die disconnected and terrified after a life of denial. To me this is an extremely controversial argument which is much easier to defend when one isn’t oneself facing the prospect of a painful death or of that of a loved one. On the other hand, I think we do live in a society that represses the truth of our mortality. We try everything we can to reverse the course of time and push back/away signs of aging and finitude with diets, beauty products, makeup, surgery, medical interventions to delay the moment as long as possible, etc. We value signs of youth aesthetically, and in the work place. Meanwhile nobody is teaching us how to deal with aging and acceptance of what is to come for all of us. Community and collective bonds slowly dissolve as we move more and more towards leading individual existences hidden behind screens of all kinds. When it comes to our death, we have to learn alone, the hard way, our backs to the wall, often after a lifetime of avoidance. I watched a chilling interview of the head of a Parisian hospital who described how old people infected with covid are dying alone and scared, their loved ones unable to come and say goodbye so as to limit further spread of the disease (I am not saying that it would be preferable to let everyone in and spread covid even more- simply deploying the fact that we have gotten to this point).
Because as Eisenstein rightly points out in a striking analogy, if your fish is sick, you can 1) drug and quarantine the fish, or 2) clean the tank. Our tank wasn’t exactly the most pretty picture before covid hit us: alcoholism, diabetes, obesity all the conditions found in high numbers among the people dying from covid. Add workaholism and burnouts to lack of exercise and poor nutrition, throw in some excessive hand washing and germophobia which weaken our immune systems by making our internal flora less diverse (and don’t get me started on the food industry)… bake for a few decades, and tadaaaaaa, bon appétit!
Maybe if we had built a society in which people took better care of themselves and leaders better care of the public health system as well as socio-economic conditions (I’m talking universal healthcare and basic income), we would be facing a completely different situation.
If this —social distancing, masks, no mass gatherings etc.— is the “new normal” for the next year or so -estimates are still too vague to establish anything certain-, what kind of society do we want to create in the future? As Eisenstein points out, the collective trauma and pause in history, as well as the economic consequences of the whole disastrous situation, are also an occasion to sort out what is really essential for us (not just in terms of jobs, but also of values, held on a collective scale: material possessions, consumerism, and “eternal youth” on the one hand, or compassion, solidarity and connection, including with our elders —and a fortiori, with our own mortality, on the other?).
Sure, this might seem like hippie-dippy wishful thinking when the reality today is of finding a place to put dead bodies, turning lorries into temporary hospitals, unemployment, fear, hopelessness, locusts (I’m not joking, google it!), etc.
But we can’t live with our head in the sand forever: the world is half-collapsed already. What are we going to do with the pieces? IMHO, it’s up to each and every one of us to start by being more kind, loving and compassionate to those around us. And to ourselves: by taking care of our health, our hearths and our relationships.
And then, the revolution of the proletariat !!!
Just kidding. I’m just a poor grad student writing a wordpress blog. I have no solution to offer on the global scale. I just know that I am proud and grateful to be 7 months 1/2 sober today, when a year ago I was terrified of going ONE SINGLE DAY without a drink.
In bref, I don’t think we can just “go back to normal” after all this. I definitely don’t think we should. Covid is like a magnifying glass that reveals how far we have come in building a world of injustice (in the US black people are dying of Covid a lot more than white people). What to we want after this has passed?
Now is the time to start becoming who we want to be, and hopefully we can do a better job than we were before all of this mess.
Every grain of sand counts !
Hang in there everyone, keep social distancing and protect the safety of the most vulnerable people around you !
ps. Here is the link to the article for those of you who want to read it. https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/