April this time last year marked the pandemic raging on our shores, when we went into full lockdown. Remembering its anniversary, I’m sending this letter back in time to anyone who wishes to read it.
Brace yourself. The whispers of a global pandemic have become sirens. But not the Odyssean kind.
You’ll never quite hear them the same way again, their Doppler shift shuttling yet another soul to the E.R. It’s not the flu; it’s different this time. You’re no economist, but you’re pretty sure something in the supply chain has to break. But you just want to know if you’ve got enough toilet paper. The stocks are going haywire; it’s madness on Wall Street.
But right now, you’re sifting through the noise for the sound of something you can control. You’re wondering how much hand sanitizer helps, if you should wipe down your groceries, and whether you should let your kids play with the neighbors. You’re wondering just how many cans of soup to stock up on, and if you shouldn’t take it a step further — enough water for two weeks, flashlights, a generator for fear of power failure?
But you’re wrong to worry — at least not about that. If you’re fortunate, you won’t have to worry about food, water or shelter. The hurt is going to be something far less tangible — your livelihood, the way you thought your life was headed, even who you are. You’ll find just how flimsy “identity” really is without a social web to remind you you’re needed.
Some of you will feel very much unneeded by society for a long time. But you’re most cherished by your family. Perhaps it’s a welcome change, you decide. Cruelly, some of you will be so needed by society your family languishes for the crumbs of time you have to share, after taking off your scrubs to shower the virus off.
But if you’re like most of us, time is something you’ll have in spades. Without the commute or obliged social functions, perhaps being out of work altogether, you’ll finally come to understand Einstein’s special relativity. You’re not in motion, you chuckle, and you won’t be for some time. And doesn’t time slow for the observer, or is it the other way around?
Faces will lose their expression, so you have to follow the eyes. You’ll get the mood wrong half the time, but keep trying.
It’s emotional relativity. Behind their masks and their worries, they’re in their world and you’re in yours. You try for small talk but most of the time, it falls to the floor. You’ll give anything to see the barista break into a smile.
Oh, you’ll be late with flowers for Valentine’s Day but that’s just the kind of year it’ll be. When everything’s relative, it’s the thought that counts.
We’ve sprung forward for daylight saving time now. If only it wasn’t an hour but a year.
But then I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of writing to you.
P.S. They made a vaccine! It’s a feat without precedent.