This afternoon the government announced a ban on all gatherings of over 100 people and no more than 50 people in a bar or restaurant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Sports events and concerts were all being canceled and the papers were showing the main shopping street was eerily empty. I had a momentary doubt about the moral logic to keeping my date tonight to meet a Portuguese lady in a wine bar. Was also wondering if someone would be counting customers and when the total reached 50 they would close the door.
The fear, uncertainty and doubt factor had been in the air already for two weeks when I had gone to the big supermarket near my home and all the spaghetti had been cleaned out by panic shoppers. And now that the number of cases had risen, the public was seriously hunkering down. In the midst of this uncertainty I had braved going out to my local pub to meet my artist neighbor for our weekly meet up. It had been less crowded than usual and elbow bumps substituted handshakes with the other locals we encountered. It didn’t have the feel of the usual happy hour with boisterous groups of people, rather a more somber air (but definitely not soberer!). The prospects of meeting someone to invite to the party on Saturday were slim. Anyone with an ounce of sense was self-quarantining.
Even though the government prescribed isolation was perfect for my writing life I needed to balance the hours in front of the computer with some human interaction. I had gone to a lunchtime yoga class today, again wondering if anyone besides me and the teacher would show up. It also meant braving public transport with any number of unknown disease carriers sharing the ride. The bus had roped off the front section to protect the mask wearing driver. Not only was I looking forward to my daily dose of exercise to correct being bent over a keyboard for hours but was also wondering if the nice age-appropriate lady I had a chat with last week would be there again. Usually a lot of the students are twenty-something Instagram wanna-be stars, so someone who you could have an actual conversation with about more than their daily ‘likes’ was a rarity. No luck and a smaller than usual class, everyone looking at each other with a hint of suspicion. I had taken my own mat today even though the studio provides them because these days you can’t be too sure who used it last. Yoga paranoia – where is the bliss?
Fear of touching door handles, pulling my jacket over my thumb to push the door button on the elevator, standing back from people – a new mentality was settling in. After class I was dashing for my tram and saw a fellow student (coulda been a Next Top Model) sitting on the bus bench with an open laptop on her knees, intently typing away. I said in passing: “hey yoga girl, nice handstand today.“ (We had been struggling side-by-side against the wall to master this pose.) She laughed and wished me a nice day. I guess her home office was wherever she could get an internet signal. No more working in a corporate building with hundreds of coworkers was beginning to be the new normal.
I ended up keeping my date at the wine bar and my artist friend called from the supermarket down the street so I invited him to join us. He shared some pictures he had just taken of the vegetable department with all the produce bins completely empty. The afternoon announcement by the government had triggered an even bigger wave of panic buying. Before he left we conferred briefly on the viability of visiting the Russian bar in the neighborhood that was having a party the next night.
On one hand common sense said avoid public gatherings, it raises the chances of contracting or sharing the virus and then the less sensible, or passionate side tapped on my other shoulder saying ‘wash your hands and you’ll be OK, it’s just like flu season’. I’m starting to believe the panic is more dangerous to one’s health than the actual virus. The fear weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to any illness not to mention edging towards depression from the feeling of helplessness. There is so much conflicting information about the virus that confusion becomes a fuel for the panic. Yes, it will pass and one day I won’t have to worry when I scratch my nose.
The timing of this pandemic is bad. It’s just starting to be spring with warmer days and more light – the perfect time to be looking for love sitting out at sidewalk cafes. Now it looks more like it will be summer for finding romance as half the public isolate themselves and the usual meeting places are empty. I know I should be happy to have no more excuses to get on with my next novel but having a social life to balance my usual hermit like existence is important.
There’s always online dating but that’s a whole other dimension of fake photos, over glorified profiles and enthusiastic chats that end with one or the other ghosting. And how would you arrange an eventual rendezvous if it progressed that far? Would it be seen as a sign of irresponsibility to suggest going for a coffee? Does a single person take their chances or does it turn into an effort that attracts only the desperate potential partners with no other options? It was already hard enough to spark a conversation even in the best of times.
With the pandemic there is no more physical contact of hugs and handshakes. Will the reluctance of physical contact be compensated with a more emotional connection? I had a voicemail from someone I was going to meet for a walk by the lake on the weekend. Even though it was a sunny, warm day she canceled saying she had been commuting all week on public transport and didn’t want to do the same on the weekend. I got her point so we settled for a video chat. Maybe this is going to be the new reality. But why should a disease get in the way of having a life outside your home? I have shelves full of to-be-read books, Netflix shows to watch, lists of saved Internet links to explore, 200 channels on my TV and Master Class on-line courses so why should I worry about being bored? I can do more meditation and have a yoga mat to make into my own home studio. I even have some jumbo packs of toilet paper in the garage. So what, me worry? Actually, now that I think about it, could use a few more packages of spaghetti in my cupboard…
Maybe it’s about Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest. Meeting someone at the party Saturday night might be finding another fearless soul intent on embracing life and not succumbing to the endless drumbeat of panic. But then loving yourself enough to respect your health is an important lesson to learn and if you can do that then you can start to help others. And as much as I am concerned about my own health, I also wouldn’t want to be a zombie carrier unknowingly infecting anyone publicly or family and friends that I am close to.
In the end I didn’t go to the Russian bar but stayed home watched an inspiring video and read a memoir of a famous film producer. I had made my peace with coping with this strange dreamlike drama unfolding around the world like some kind of science fiction movie. I didn’t feel any loss, rather a sense of contentment for making the right choice and being at peace with myself. I had found love and one day I’ll be gifted to be able to share it.