There’s something cheering about walking around my neighbourhood and seeing people swerve into the street or climb into flowerbeds to allot each other our six feet of safety. Even though I can only see eyes crinkle above masks in lieu of smiles, every action communicates, “I’m taking care of you. We’re in this together.”
The crisis has made us all look at each other more closely. In a time of lockdown, it’s the people nearest us, whom we may not have known or chosen deliberately, whom we have to rely on. The pandemic is pushing us past the limits of whom we previously trusted or entrusted ourselves to, and we have the opportunity to learn to extend ourselves in love, even when we no longer are forced to.
At present, no one feels like a stranger, since the biggest thing in all of our lives right now is shared, and known to be shared. Any pair of people passing may have very different levels of risk, and one may be more worried for his health while another is more concerned about her laid-off employees. But both know that the other one is swept up in the same storm. And that camaraderie isn’t specific to the coronavirus crisis. Rebecca Solnit, in her book on solidarity in disasters, A Paradise Built in Hell, contrasted the feeling of unity in shared suffering with the isolation of individual catastrophe. She highlights the work of sociologist Charles Fritz, who compared widespread disaster with the way people “suffer and die daily, though in ordinary times, they do so privately, separately.”