I think what twists us up the most about COVID-19 is that we have to assume everybody else has COVID-19 until they prove that they have COVID-19. That’s a hyper-paranoid way to walk through life. It really is. It’s like saying, “you have to assume everybody else is the secret police until they prove that they are the secret police.”
How does a society even function with that? It doesn’t, at least not in the customary sense.
Decades ago, my church youth director stated with a straight face, to those of us gathered for mostly social purposes on a Wednesday night service, that if we have sex with someone, we’re having sex with everyone else they’ve had sex with. The purpose of this was primarily to convince us that all pre-marital sex was bad (and gross because ew, right?), and that we should completely abstain until we were married to someone who had also completely abstained. But the secondary effect was to sow the seeds of social distrust, to create a new wrinkle in our understanding of the world. By not soiling ourselves with exposure to soiled people, we remain pure. And everyone else is assumed impure until they’re proven to be impure. There is no positive proof of purity except what we know about ourselves.
This COVID-19 pandemic does the same. Nobody else can be truly pure with absolute certainty, because even if tests come back negative, they could contract the virus between their test and your contact with them. How can anybody win?
Our goal now is to “flatten the curve” of infection, to have fewer victims so the medical system can safely deal with the instantaneous load. So we must abstain from interpersonal social contact, social distancing, because if we hang out with someone, we hang out with everyone they’ve recently hung out with. We must either trust the purity of their cohorts, or just abstain and remain pure with certainty. I bristle at that.
The purity game is difficult, and it can only be won by those who doggedly pursue it to win it at all costs. That requires an unnatural paranoia. I don’t want to get myself sick if I somehow get soiled with the virus. And I don’t want to get others sick, especially if they’re immuno-compromised or could die from the complications of infection. But I also don’t want to be desperately alone for this indefinite amount of time. Y’know?
Let’s hope there’s resolution to this soon, because I suspect a lot of people are going to lose their shit, myself included, without breath, without hope, without connection. We are social creatures, and we take chances, play the numbers, hazard the risks, for love, for wealth, for possibilities, all the things that make us human among humans. Springtime is the wrong time for social distance. I’m naturally a lonesome person, but I hope this pandemic resolves with a cure and treatment so I can, so we can, find some salve and balm for this loneliness without putting others at risk in the quest for oxytocin.
I remember a wintry scene, 2001-ish, at Mojo’s Daily Grind cafe, my circle of friends and I crammed into the corner at the back table of the smoking section for warmth, crimson walls and all a tangle of legs, feet, backpacks, coats, sweaters, books, arms, and hearts. To extricate ourselves for coffee refills was more of a physical challenge than a social challenge. We were a mass in a mess, and that made us human. For a brief evening, I felt complete. We can get back to that, but not for a while. Until then, we must find other ways to meet and entangle our feet, to find other ways to retrieve that trust. We must weather this, because that makes us human.