Life in Times of Corona
As we sit to write this entry, the scent of spring comes in through the bedroom window and crows gather in the distance. The streets around us are empty of cars and people, and not a sound seems out of place. There are no kids playing in the background, no school buses making the rounds. No cafes open for breakfast or flower shops brimming with tulips announcing the coming of spring. There are no groups of people chatting relaxedly in every corner, nor busy passersby crossing the streets from shop to shop to shop.
Life as we know it has somehow evaporated and what remains is something new we are yet to find the right words for. This is Life in Times of Corona, a title we hope Gabriel García Márquez would aprove of. A life that seems to be in suspended animation, hanging tenuously on an invisible rope whose exact length is unknown.
We are writing this from Bavaria, the South of Germany, after a week that can only be described as surreal and full of small but important decisions. In a matter of days, we decided to pack up our things and leave Bali for the time being to be closer to those we care about at such an uncertain point. Our parents are all in their late fifties/early sixties and our grannies well into their nineties. But the truth is also that Bali didn't feel safe. Not with the local authorities offering little to no access to reliable information about the contagion in the island, nor about the measures taken to prevent its rampant spread.
So here we are, back in Europe, though the Europe we've come back to is now a very different one. The week in which the very agreement for a borderless Europe (the Schengen Agreement) has turned 25 years of age, the part of the world we've come back to is now more border-full and policed than ever. A Europe now so divided that even contact between its member citizens must be reduced to what's strictly necessary, and where something as seemingly naïve as where one lives can make all the difference to one's experience of confinement.
But life goes on also at this point, even if it does so with a vengeance. For this new life, this soon to be 'new normal,' has an uncanny similarity with what we had before, but for the sense of freedom that we thought we enjoyed. It is our sense of freedom that's suffered the most, a sense of freedom now on hold, cancelled until further notice. And this slight variation, this tiny, little change, has the power to alter our entire routine and transform our life and world. Like in a sci-fi movie where the protagonists go back in time and touch something they shouldn't and then can't go back to how things were before they ever did so...
And so the streets remain streets, the days and weeks stay days and weeks; and yet, from our comfortable house arrest, both streets and days and weeks grow heavy and thick and all we are left with is time to kill and one simple realization: the notion that, when life takes over and we are forced to sit alone or at a distance, all the doing and all the pursuing and all the becoming and all the pushing, all the knowing and all the ways in which we used to occupy our weeks and days mean nothing; and all that we really need is the ability to stay calm, stay still, accept what is, and take stock of our global situation.
This exercise will be new for many, we're sure, not to mention quite uncomfortable and destabilising at the beginning. Not knowing and not doing and not pursuing and not becoming has never really been part of most of our lives' equations. But isn't it also a great opportunity, this crisis? A massive chance for all of us to realize what's truly important in our lives and get to know well what we fear to finally understand our motivations?
So let's forget about how things were, how life was before this massive contagion, and use confinement for real and sound transformation. Forget about the idea of coming out of this juncture 'on top.' Forget about using confinement to be 'productive,' plan the future, or check yet another future-oriented box. Let's really pay attention. Let's root ourselves in our present, however uncomfortable the situation. Lack of connection with the reality of our lives has brought us to this particular point in time and only true connection to the fabric of life can get us somewhere different, somewhere better. It really is up to us. What comes to happen next, will inevitably happen to all of us.