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Corona-diary: Entry 4

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Does it Matter?

For a moment, I felt like I was channeling Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: Enterprise. There he was, in deep space, passing endless days boldly going where no man (or woman) had gone before, and making sense of it all with a few words jotted in his log. But Picard had it easy. At least he was going somewhere. Here we are doing our best to be bold, but it turns out that stagnating into the unknown requires a lot more than blind courage. It’s all about dualities.

Here are tonight’s set of three:

Firstly, the needed are also needy: It’s not easy being a parent or caring for the elderly at home these days. It’s not easy being the boss of two or five or fifty people whose livelihoods depend on you. Every morning, every day, we have conversations in our heads, trying to anticipate what’s coming next. Every day, regardless of how tired or sad or hair-on-fire you may feel, the mask of calm has to go on, with a smile, to face those faces that rely on you. This sense of being needed, being relevant in a time when so much seems irrelevant, gives us strength. It powers you to get up and go on. People that you care about, depend on it. But it gets harder with every week. As our collective mental and emotional well-being runs dry, we unleash our pain and frustration at those who are closest and strongest in our midst. The needed can easily become inadvertent punching bags, absorbing the pain of others around.

This happens so often to women. At its extremes, it is undoubtedly why we see the spikes in violence at home. They become literal punching bags.

But neither the literal nor the metaphorical punching bag – men or women – have limitless ability to absorb the shock and pain of others. Underneath the calm and the patience, a volcanic meltdown may be brewing. Since you shouldn’t explode with your kids or spouse or elderly parents or employees, I think the solution is to find a buddy, someone with whom you can verbally and emotionally let rip and be needy – uncensored, uncut. When done, take a deep breath, put on the calm and carry on.

It would make a world of difference if we could be with our friends or get away from our families for a just a while, but this is where we see the cruel misanthropy of this microscopic monster. It brings me to the second point:

Secondly: killing us to save us: The uncertainty about our future is not unique to this corona-crisis. Anyone who has lived through a war, revolution, tsunami and floods and earthquakes can attest to that sense of being adrift, of not knowing what the future holds. But in every other type of crisis, the one thing, the one absolutely, fundamentally, essential ingredient that helps us cope is gathering with friends and family. I remember that as the storms of the 1979 revolution were brewing in Iran, with the wails of ‘Allah o Akbar’ piercing the black sky, my parents and their siblings would gather together, to share the news and exchange their favorite verses of political protest. They could not anticipate how fast their lives would change forever. But at least they had each other. We saw the same in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the US. Families and neighbourhoods got together. Human contact, the essential magic of a hug, the being together in person, in masses or in small huddles, is what helps us get through. But now, we need it the most, we can’t have it.

We are lucky to see each other via Facetime and Zoom. We look to Andrew Cuomo to gather us. Some flock to D-Nice’s Club Quarantine to dance and feel connected, but night after night, instead of sitting together to imagine the future, we sit apart. This may save our lives, but it’s killing our spirits and our souls.

This brings me to third thought: Finding our lost souls. In the first week we needed news. Every article, every headline was shared and reshared, zigzagging the net at breakneck speed. But it got tiring and overwhelming. By week two we needed the ‘olds’, a semblance of constancy, so we hankered for a laugh and joke. We shared the memes and gifs as a statement of defiance and determination. But putting on a jolly show also gets vacuous and tiring.

Now in our third week, we’re thirsting for something to fill our souls. So more and more we share dance and music. The music of orchestras playing from their homes, lift us up with their Ode to Joy played with passion and precision (reminding us, by the way, that unlike politicians, musicians have no margin for error).

We see how, as societies, we’ve undervalued the performing arts and their dedication to excellence. We are realizing now that they are not just a side show: an optional extra that’s accessible only to the elite. Art, culture, dance and music that touch and feed our souls are essential services in any society.

This brings me to my final thought: Poetry. How fitting that Patrick Stewart the erstwhile Captain Picard, is now ensconced in his armchair at home, as our daily guide through the Sonnets of Shakespeare. With his readings and his relish for every turn of phrase, he lets us feel that despite our stagnant homebound bodies, our souls can still take wondrous flight. As Sir Patrick says, A Sonnet A Day keeps the doctor away.

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