Lessons learnt in the time of coronavirus

Fact Of The Matter


It is a year since the coronavirus came to live among us, wreaking havoc worldwide. In the beginning we believed it was just a temporary glitch, a short pause in the going-around of the world, in the commerce of everyday life.
A year on, the temporary hiatus has taken on a more indefinite duration, with a future that’s difficult to discern. The vaccines offer great hope but the coronavirus is here to stay, in one guise or other, endemic rather than pandemic. And, as life goes on, no doubt distant cousins of Covid-19 will come calling.
Since that plague of locusts in biblical Egypt, and further back, pathogens and plagues have played us humans. But we have learnt to live with them; with bubonic, bilharzia, polio, measles and chicken pox, Asian and swine flus, TB and diptheria, Aids and malaria and, to a lesser degree, ebola and other evil enzymes that lurk beneath. The world as global village, increased migration and ease and speed of access and — yes — climate change all play their part in stirring the infectious stew.
To go forward now, the new normal will of necessity be asking more of us all, more of me. If the past 12 months have taught me anything, it has taught me that I am living in a more uncertain, fragile and interdependent world. That I, that we, are not the centre of the universe. That Nature — its aberrations too — shows itself in strange and mysterious ways, too often without warning or concern for mere mortals.
But I have learnt other things this past 12 months. Much of what I have learnt about myself is pretty frivolous. I can now wear the same shirt two days in a row and am not above the occasional day spent in sweat pants, and days with a beard and my growing head of hair not being unflattering. I can watch again all 20-odd seasons of Law & Order SVU, all again of Downton Abbey and, 20 years on, rediscover Jack Nicholson’s greatest acting in As Good As It Gets without feeling guilty. The lockdowns have given me a free pass to be frivolous.
Less frivolous has been the year spent re-reading, rediscovering my books; John Banville and William Trevor and Somerset Maugham and David Sedaris and falling in love with Sally Rooney. Wonderful, too, rediscovering music, from The Clash to Chopin, the Pogues to Puccini, and all genres in between. Thing is, I’ve learnt, if I were to do nothing else for the rest of my days, not eat nor sleep, not nothing, there is not enough time left to me to listen just once more to all 600,000 titles in my music collection.
Collecting things, like music, matters not at the end of the day. Stuff and its accumulation don’t make you any greater, any happier. What does in the final analysis matter, and what I have missed so much the past year, is human interaction — the smile, the gesture, the touch, the idle conversation.
But I have learnt, too, the friends that were not so much friends as mere ‘hail fellow, well met’ sorts; that real friends, good neighbours, those who stepped up to the mark in this testing time, are few — and precious.
Precious too have been the year-long video conversations with my (grown-up) children, feeling again that unbreakable bond; hearing my eldest grandchild say for the first time, Grandad I love you, and welcoming my second granddaughter into the world.
I’ve learnt that the pandemic has shown how we need to pay much more attention to our health system, to fund it propxerly, to properly acknowledge those on the frontline in pay and conditions. That we need to overhaul the archaic Leaving Cert as means of measuring the great potential of our young people who have, perhaps, paid the greatest price in the pandemic in the undermining of their sense of self.
I’ve learnt I have missed the freedom of travel, the wonderful anonymity of taking off on my own.
I’ve learnt that disease discriminates; against the poor, against those not enabled.
Mostly, I’ve learnt that the fragility of my world is intertwined with its interdependence. When a virus discovered in China can upend my life in Ireland, its abstract character abruptly disappears. The world beyond my world no longer something more thought about than lived.
A worldwide pandemic laying bare our interwoven lives shows so succinctly why we need each other…

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