The brave new world of mandated lockdown and distancing has had very little effect on me. I'm a rule bound person so having a state sanctioned guide book for how one should socialise and how far away people should keep from one another fills my heart with immense joy. I'm secretly loving it.
Well, up until last week I was.
I can't remember which day it was (every day is Sunday for me) but I know I woke up happy and then suddenly in the afternoon I became very very sad to the point I started crying. And then I realised what it was. I missed hugs. I missed having contact with something other than my furniture or my bike or packages of food delivered to my door. I needed a hug, goddammit, a real hug, a soul hug. And I got it ... from my friend's dog.
Why do we need to connect?
Connection is one of the congenital threads of the human experience. It's up there with breathing, thinking and staying hydrated. Human connection is a major factor in our self actualisation, hard wired into us from birth and a key contributor to cultivating empathy, compassion, kindness and wellbeing. Its prevalence is so universal that we seem only to miss it once it is taken away.
Not to be confused with being happily alone, the absence of social connection or the feeling of being isolated is dire and can result in depression, poor health and even death. Yes, you can actually die of loneliness.
To that point, the most fascinating upshot of social distancing has been how connected we have become. Seriously, had anyone even heard of 'Houseparty' - the mobile app that has been around since, wait for it..... 2016 - prior to enforced social distancing? Well, you're not the only one since it, along with Zoom and Google Meet, has enjoyed an increase in downloads of over 1000% in the last two months.
Our desperation to see and be seen, to hear and be heard, to exchange ideas and solve problems grew more dominant as each restriction increased in severity. The more distant we were from each other the more connected we became.
Even for a non collectivist culture like Australia's, we kind of all did the same thing when Corona came to town. Clearing out whole aisles of toilet paper, pasta and cleaning products on a national scale was not an act of a few rogue hoarders. We all did it. And when it came to sheltering in place and self quarantining, thankfully we all did that, too...well, except for those bozos on Bondi Beach. But for the most part, we were connected and acted accordingly because of the common situation we all faced.
The corona care factor
Have you noticed how much nicer and more mindful people have become? Every video chat seems to open with a very genuine, "How are you? How is everything going?" and there is collective empathy from the other respondents because whatever you just said, they are experiencing it, too. People make way for you in the street and the supermarket like a sort of COVID-19 Waltz. Staff at cafes and restaurants are actually grateful for your patronage (and their employment) rather than treating you with absolute antipathy if you ask for a vegan option, or any option for that matter.
With uncertainty about the future, we've learnt to live in the moment. Thinking ahead five or six days has suddenly become a long term plan. For those trying to balance home schooling with fixed employment (not me THANK CHRIST!!), just getting to the end of the day without completely losing your shit is some kind of modern world wizardry.
Things we used to care about like office politics, career advancement, corporate attire, fancy watches, jewellery, eyelash extensions and the Kardashians have been eclipsed by things that are ACTUALLY important: food, safety, fresh air, hygiene, family, friends and toilet paper.
But perhaps the greatest byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the huge benefit to the environment resulting from our modified way of living, some of which may last beyond the ultimate demise of COVID-19. Similarly, we've reconnected with nature. Owing to the fact there's nothing to do now, we've rediscovered the sheer delight of going for a walk, run or ride outside. Coronavirus has given mother earth the big hug she has been waiting for since the industrial revolution.
In it together
I think the last time the reverberations of an event were so widely felt was September 11. It was all anyone could talk about at the time and we all shared in our collective shock at seeing a global superpower get royally kicked in the nuts. Fear of further attacks made us hyper vigilant about security, ports of entry and how much liquid we could take on a plane. But as significant as that event was, it was a tiny blip compared to what we're experiencing now. Unless you're a lifelong New Yorker or a member of al-Qaeda, September 11 happened to someone else. It happened to them. This pandemic is happening to us, to all of us.
Nothing connects people like a shared enemy and all the charts indicate that the countries who got onboard early and did what they were told are going to be the first ones out of this. At first we dragged our feet. In February, I was the poster girl for the "I'm healthy, I won't get coronavirus" movement and I was one of millions. But after a few weeks the focus shifted to hospitals and front line workers and community transmission and became less about 'me' and more about 'us'. When we collectively commit to a higher purpose the results come much quicker. We obeyed the rules not because we are pliant sheep, but because we understood that this thing was bigger than us; it is what connected us.
A virus does not discriminate. It doesn't care about where you were born, which god you worship or who you shag. It just needs a fully grown host with a body temperature of around 37°C to thrive. Its spread has traversed oceans, borders and vessels and has connected us with a shared experience to reinforce the COVID-19 anthem: We're all in this together.
I can't remember a time when I have felt more dialled into my community, my network, even the rest of the world. When I went straight into self quarantine at the end of March after being in California, so many people reached out and offered to help me with anything I needed 'on the outside'. I then went straight into a vortex of video chats, online workouts, Messenger, WhatsApp, HouseParty, Zoom, Instagram Live, Meet-ups and a couple of old fashioned phone calls. Isolation and physical distancing spawned a wave of interaction that surpassed my pre-covid non-virtual social life. There is no way I would trade my digitally enhanced life for my previous life but I have been impressed by how quickly we've found a path through adversity and adapted to a new normal.
Like everything, this will pass and we'll all be able to go out for breakfast and hug each other again soon. But until then, stay home, stay connected and take care of each other.
Stay well, sleep well.