I started this blog when life was dark, seemingly impossible and I was barely able to go outside for fear and anxiety. I come back to it after over a year since last posting at a time when the whole country, indeed a third of the world, is afraid to go out due to fear and anxiety and each day brings more grim news of death, overwhelmed NHS, infection prevention and enforced isolation. At least I’ve had some practice. But I am in the high risk category, so have been told I cannot go out at all, even to the shops or for a walk in the lovely spring sunshine. Day two and it is going ok… just wonder how it will feel by day 82? Precious time with my wife and family, but in the context of so much anxiety and abnormality that it feels most definitely surreal.
Barely a month ago the world had hardly become conscious of this strange virus spreading from China. There were many jokes and comments about hoping to get a day off school whilst it was deep cleaned. No-one seemed to have any idea just how bad it would get. Numbers change every day, but it is becoming clear the hospitals could be over-run and many will die alone, without their relatives there to be with them, in isolation, pain and fear. Having had RSV virus just before christmas and ending up in hospital on a drip with pneumonia when every cough felt like broken glass and it was exhausting even to make it to the toilet and back, I have some small sense of what it might feel like. As you can imagine, I am not keen to go back into hospital, so am becoming a bit Howard Hughes (or Hawks?) about hygiene, washing hands obsessively, wiping door handles, cleaning the toilet seat and sitting a good distance away from my kids. My wife felt fatigue, sore throat and seemed to have a fever, so I have moved downstairs, and tried to keep her in the upstairs room. She is now much better and hopefully not infectious (and anyway it may just have been a normal cold), but our son is now feeling hot and tired, so maybe I will need to self isolate even further from him. Scary times. This could kill me.
But I do want to note there are at least three pandemics going on at the moment. The virus we all know about, causing illness, deaths, suffering and great pressure on the health systems. but there is a new virus out there of panic, anger, self-preservation and violent reactions. The panic buying in supermarkets, the vitriol poured at people going to parks, sometimes with the same family they are sitting in the house with, the tension in the air of any crowded situation such as the tube. This is a disturbing and deeply unpleasant side to human nature where the philosopher Hobbes’s description of selfish humanity as living a life “nasty, brutish and short” seems highly apposite. I already despaired at the decline in decent behaviour and respect which came last year with the violent arguments over Brexit, but this side of the Corona virus does us no credit, and shows us little removed from animals.
However, there is a third virus spreading rapidly which gives us hope. In a pandemic of community, people are reaching out to each other, checking everyone is ok and using the power of the web to reconnect with those they may not have had real contact with for years. The number of hilarious videos being posted, the fantastic NHS and people looking after their own neighbours and communities all testify to what Rousseau called the Social Contract, the ability of humans to cooperate, share, and support eachother in search of a better life for all. They appealed for 250,000 volunteers; one day later they have over 400,000 people prepared to help others and put their own health at risk. I am fjoining the national applause tomorrow night to celebrate the brave doctors, nurses, health care professionals and also amateurs who are putting lives on the line and working so hard to save lives.
I am lighting a candle every night at 8.00 to show support for those with ill relatives, those who have lost someone and those who fear they could get the virus. But it is also a celebration of this third virus, the re-establishment of community, of shared values, and of the essential goodness of humanity. That is what will get us through this. Some may not make it, insha allah and God willing I will, but as the former Archbishop Rowan Williams and many others are saying maybe there will be a rebooting of our essential values, away from neoliberal and monetary focus, towards a world of kindness, compasssion and community.
Despite the four horsemen of Floods, Brexit, Trump/Boris and now Coronavirus, the human species does have a remarkable ability to adapt, to cope and to survive. If and when we do, we will only have the fifth horseman of climate change to face, and God help us all with that.
In the meantime, stay well everyone, take care, love eachother and continue to celebrate the best of who we can be.