These are strange times, scary times, depressing times. If the virus doesn’t get us physically, we’ll be hurt psychologically through anxiety, grief for lost loved ones and the claustrophobia of social isolation. It will harm us economically and socially too. But there are silver linings and, although they might not balance the negatives, these potential benefits are real.
Okay, it doesn't change the fact that she shouldn't ever have been there, or that she can’t be with her husband and young daughter, or that the guy in charge of our current security probably compromised hers, but she’s out of prison, albeit temporarily. Hurrah!
The climate gets a break
Fire, flood, heatwaves and drought and it’s business as usual, but now the planes are grounded as countries close their borders and holidays are cancelled: it can’t be much fun having to self-isolate in a hotel. Massive disappointment and disruption, and a punch to the gut of the economy, but Gaia is smiling at an unexpected respite from the abuse.
Don’t you wonder if you’ve walked into the wrong movie? All the trailers were for climate catastrophe; plague and pestilence seemed as clichéd as aliens-have-landed at the turn of the year. Yet here we are! But relative to the nuclear annihilation threat I grew up with, this has a low fatality rate, especially for the under 50s. So over to you, kids, if anyone can make a feel-good story out of the climate crisis, it’s you!
Billionaires can’t buy immunity
While some rely on food banks, despite working their socks off, those who own the companies have been able to turn a blind eye. Up until now, the superrich could buy themselves out of a crisis but the virus targets bodies indiscriminately, irrespective of bank balance. Sure, the rich will queue jump if and when an antidote materialises, and the stay-at-home rule is more comfortable if you live in a mansion than in a one-room flat, but for now I’m encouraged by the virus’s socialist streak. (Although, if we’re addressing this at the level of country or community, of course wealth makes a difference. Those of us with actual homes can self-isolate, but I’m not hearing much about how those in overcrowded slums and refugee camps are faring.)
We're forced to acknowledge our interdependency
Rich or poor, we’re all vulnerable, but it’s more than that. After decades of the politics of selfishness, here’s a timely reminder of the social contract on which we all depend. Sure, we’ve seen the idiocy of panic buying toilet roll and the theft of hand sanitisers from the boards at the feet of hospital beds, but we’ve also witnessed acts of kindness and neighbourly support. Most of all, while the places people gather close their doors, it reminds us how our own health depends not only on what we do ourselves (wash those hands!) but on the altruism of strangers, on the willingness of those with symptoms, however mild, to stay at home. And – who knew? – we discover that the people who keep us going aren't the bankers and celebrities, but healthcare staff, supermarket workers and the unsung heroes who empty the bins.
The government accepts its responsibility to govern
After decades of politicians raised by nannies sniping at the ‘nanny state’ – a.k.a. law-making for the benefit of the collective rather than for their friends – parliament pushes through rulings that would have been unthinkable a month ago. While some say #NotMyPrimeMinister should have acted sooner, even someone driven by a public-service ethos rather than self-aggrandisement would have had to pick their way through it without a script. While I still bristle at the concept of emergency legislation, there are worse ways of seeing our civil liberties eroded, such as through racist pogroms or conscription into suicidal wars. (Sorry for you in the US, however; your POTUS still thinks it’s all about him.)
It warms my heart to see #NotMyPrimeMinister, who in his fight for popularity has hitherto displayed an alarming aversion to the truth, give a press conference flanked by scientists. Of course, it’s partly to deflect responsibility, and we might go back to dismissing experts once we realise they can’t wield a magic wand, but I’m enjoying seeing the spotlight shone on scientific expertise.
No need for introverts to conjure excuses to turn down invitations: there are no invitations! But even we can suffer from loneliness and cabin fever – and it must be a nightmare to be locked in with a domestic abuser – so thank the stars for the telephone, email and Skype.
The reading revolution
With nightlife on hold, and social gatherings discouraged, people will certainly have more time for reading, but books must still compete with TV and film. But with ebooks so accessible, and such variety on offer, there’s a chance of reading being revived. As I already get through well over 100 books a year, and hardly had a social life, there’s little scope for my reading stats being boosted but, as a writer, I sincerely hope other people’s will. While you’re here, why not check out my own books, along with hundreds of others I’ve reviewed on this blog.
Do you agree on these benefits? Have you noticed any others? How are you faring in these difficult times?
Now, as times get tough, it’s ever more essential we take care of our own and each other’s mental well-being. What would you do when a friend says she’s been seeing things? I must admit, a shiver went through me when Charli claimed she’d seen a rabbit on her roof. And she’s drawing us in, asking for 99-word stories about it. Should I humour her?
What service, please?
We’ll need a fire ladder to access the roof and an ambulance in case he’s injured … I don’t think a crime has been committed but what was he doing there?
Okay, calm down, let’s get this straight: there’s a man on your roof, not a burglar, you’re worried he might be injured and can’t get down?
It’s not a man.
Makes no odds whether they identify as male, female or non-binary, if a person’s in trouble …
I wouldn’t anthropomorphise.
It’s a rabbit.
A rabbit. How long have you been self-isolating, madam?