…whatever you were doing or planning back in January is probably irrelevant by now.
For me, this year started out so well, so ambitious and on-track, despite all obstacles. For a short time, I reveled in life without a car: all the money I was saving, all the exercise I was getting walking up and down hills every day. I was dreaming of a summer vacation cruising by sail through the Gulf Islands, and of creating a car co-op.
Tail between my legs, I was going to write to you about how short-lived that car-freedom was, to tell you about that time that I paid $2000 to make my way to a little-kid birthday party. The car cost $800 and a year’s worth of insurance cost $1,200. The decision felt financially wreckless and also like bad parenting (my kid doesn’t get many birthday parties, she would’ve been crushed, I am clearly a push-over). In the end, though, the decision has proven sound: my husband is one of those rare and brave people who still has to make his way into work every day, and public transportation feels suddenly, unsafe.
While he’s got the vehicle in the city, I am confined to destinations I can arrive at on foot. It is easier than I could have EVER imagined. Going to the grocery store is over, as is loafing around at coffee shops, working in offices, dropping small people at daycare, and so on. Right now I figure I am one of the luckiest people on earth to be able to go nowhere with a paved road in front of my house for the kids to ride their wheeled-things on, and the woods on the other side of that, and the ocean on the other side of that.
My privileged circumstances offer a thin layer of protection against inevitable anxieties. If I feel tired or sniffly, sometimes I panic. Then I reassure myself with the reminder that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen other humans in the flesh, and not had to holler to communicate.
Then there’s the anxiety for humanity in general. It doesn’t help that my seven-year-old pulled Lord of the Rings off the shelf for a bed-time reading last week. I’ve now been sucked into a world where the forces of evil are gaining strength, threatening to enslave even the simple hobbits.
When apocalyptic thoughts creep up on me, I think about how air pollution is plummeting. For a second, I got really excited to learn that dolphins have returned to the suddenly-clear waters of Venice (not true). While news about air pollution is true, it is also likely short-lived. Especially given the fact that real-life forces of evil are taking this opportunity to roll back emissions standards.
Author David Quammen compares the legion of 7.6 billion humans on this planet to populations of various insects, that grow exponentially in short periods of time with devastating effects – then collapse. The difference between us and insects, he says, is that we have the ability to change our behaviour to avoid danger. What we are living through now proves this to be true.
None of us know what life on the other side of this pandemic looks like, what will stick with us and what we’ll forget almost instantly. I assume many of us will hold on to our improved our hand-washing techniques and the frequency of the act. Many of us will be better at making bread. We’ll be more comfortable with video-conferencing, and forging-on at the office through the common cold will likely fall out of fashion. But will we have settled into the idea of slowing down and staying put? Will we come out of this with an ability to eat out of the fridge instead of rushing back and forth to the grocery store every thirty seconds? Will we have gained the patience and fortitude to fight the longer emergencies?
Your guess is as good as mine. For the moment though, I’m holding off on making any plans beyond my garden.