Pandemics, whatever else they do, show us we are not alone. “No man is an island,” runs the much-quoted John Donne line, and that never seems truer than when you’re trying to be an island and failing: not keeping six feet of distance when meeting a friend, fighting to get the kids to keep their masks on, simmering with resentment that you can’t get to a Mets game.
Covid-19 is proof that, yes, there is such a thing as society; the disease has spread precisely because we aren’t autonomous individuals disconnected from each other, but rather all belong to one great body of humanity. The pain inflicted by the pandemic is far from equally distributed. Yet it reveals ever more clearly how much we all depend on one another, and how urgently necessary it is for us to bear one another’s burdens. Faced with the dilemma of how to resume social interactions safely, we’ve learned how badly we miss each other. In a way unimaginable a year ago, seven billion people’s joys and tears – at least in regard to the spread of the virus while we await a vaccine – are our own.
It’s a good time, then, to talk about solidarity. The more so because it’s a theme that’s also raised by this year’s other major development, the international protests for racial justice following George Floyd’s death. It was astonishing to watch crowds chanting “Black Lives Matter” in cities as far removed from US policing as Stockholm, Seville, and Sydney. Here was solidarity, or at least a craving for something resembling it.