These are the glory days to be a news junkie. After deleting social media from my phone in an attempt at self-care, the New York Times app became my new vice. I would refresh the home page as if refreshing my Instagram newsfeed, waiting to see if something interesting was going on in the world on a given day. It was in January that I started seeing stories about this mysterious virus in China; the turmoil it was bringing to an authoritarian regime and an economic powerhouse. But it was so far away. It was not here, and because of that, it was almost fantasy. As if I was reading a screenplay, I would joke with friends that Contagion had come to life. I would insist I was Matt Damon, they would insist that I was Kate Winslet.
To be honest, I couldn’t quite shake the comedic outlook. It might be my way of dealing with stress, but I almost found the outbreak exciting. I would tell my friends about “Pandemic”, a game I used to play on my phone while bored in history class. As the teacher lectured on American Reconstruction, I would be designing a disease to wipe out the world; sifting through its DNA make-up, deciding what country to start-off in, and plotting the world’s demise. What was once an outlandish game to pass time had now become a twisted reality.
As the news stories developed and the virus spread like wildfire, I still could not find panic in my bones. I read about the fatality rates and the symptoms, but all I could see was that as a healthy 25-year-old, I need not be worried. In my eyes, on the off chance I caught this pandemic of a virus, I would be getting the flu-like symptoms I have lived through more times than I am proud of. So, as an arrogant 25-year old, I proceeded without any regard or respect for the virus. I scoffed at people washing their hands constantly, at the universities shutting their doors, and at the office places going remote. If its not a danger to me, why should I care?
Currently, I work as a barista in the Cambridge area at a café with a primarily elderly clientele. In the recent days, our policies have gone into full-on prevention mode. We no longer use reusable plates or mugs as to reduce cross contamination and every touch of the face is followed with an immediate happy-birthday-length washing of the hands. When the rules were put into effect, I was dubious. I still couldn’t handle the reality of the situation; the gravity of each and every interaction.
Despite the abrupt changes, there were still some things I looked forward to each day at work. One of those things was when my favorite customer, Jane, would come into the store. Jane is a soft-spoken 70-something who comes in every single morning for a skim latte and an oatmeal with bananas and walnuts. With both of my grandparents passed away, Jane is my pseudo-nana. I will see her walking from 2 blocks away and get started on the order, just in the hopes that it will give her a smile and be the best pseudo-grandson possible. It was when she walked in after our new policies were implemented that I suddenly realized the risk she was taking by even leaving her home. With the trust she put in me to keep her food safe and clean, I realized just how selfish and arrogant I had been by balking at simple sanitation. To think that my inability to take this situation seriously could lead to the loss of Jane and plenty other elderly loved ones had me kicking myself. As a member of this community, I was ignorant to the fact that it isn’t my chance at illness that matters. My impact lies in my responsibility to others. If there was ever a time to understand the interconnectedness of the world at both a local and global scale, it is now.
By being skeptical, I was being irresponsible to society. If there is a lesson to get out of this incredibly stressful time, it is that our inactions have just as much of an effect as our actions. I hope that when this tumultuous situation is recovered, we will be able to translate these lessons learned into a more socially mindful everyday life. In the meantime, I will learn to embrace my long hand washes and intimate relationship with Purell.