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Pickle Me This

May 17, 2021

On Archipelagos

Last March when the wheels fell off the (western) world, a former classmate of mine who lives in Shanghai was having none of everybody’s passionate proclamation that FINALLY we were all on this together. Well, where had been the rest of us, she was asking on Twitter, when she had her neighbours had been enduring lock-downs since January? 8 weeks by then, which seems quaint now, the pandemic was young. And where we’d been, of course, was living our comfortable little lives supposing that what was happening in China—and then Iran, and then Italy—was something that went on “over there” and it could possibly have nothing to do with us.

To be fair, I am not entirely sure what else we should have been doing in practice, but I am sure it was the principle of the thing that bothered her. That things that don’t affect us directly might as well not be happening at all, which is a comfortable way to live, it’s for sure, but the last year has made quite clear that no man is an island, and no country is either—except for New Zealand. (Why can’t we all be New Zealand?) I was thinking of my friend in China a couple of weeks ago as Nova Scotia went into lockdown, and everybody I know there was all in a tizzy, and I just wanted all of them to calm down. Because if I’m still here and doing okay on Day 175 of MY city being in lockdown, surely you might endure your own burden with a little more stoicism?

My irritation wasn’t very generous or kind, but it was born out of a suspicion that what had upset a lot of people was that they’d been hoping fate would exempt them from what everybody else was going through. That somehow, they thought they were different or they were better and therefore the rules did not apply, and also I’ve worked very hard to get through the last six months non-hysterically and so to see other people losing their minds over a handful of cases is really just a test of my patience. Can I just tell you that 175 days is a very long time?

I have this vivid memory of being in high school, and a friend and their sibling were fighting viciously. It had turned into a huge problem for their family, and their parent was really struggling, and I was over at their house witnessing on altercation, and I remember saying something like, “Hey, don’t worry! My family yells at each other all the time!” And I have a distinct recollection of the expression that passed over that parent’s face in response to what I’d just told them, that this wasn’t any kind of comfort. The kind of empathy that you wish was otherwise—I don’t want to know what it’s like to be you at all.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. I think it’s interesting that we ARE all in this together, but also we’re distinctly not. Or maybe we ARE islands, but we’re archipelagos too. And eventually the bad news come for everyone, for some more then others. These things aren’t given out fairly, for sure, and I’m think about peaks and troughs, whose meanings are turned inside out when we’re thinking about infection rates. April was a brutal month in Ontario, and one day I saw a photo of somebody out for a beer on a patio in the UK and I was absolutely filled with jealous rage, which isn’t my go-to. And now it’s mid-May, and things are getting better, finally, as they’re only getting worse in the province to the west of us. Steps forward and steps back again, and it requires so much patience.

I don’t pay attention to the numbers, unless they’re good. I wrote this last summer and I still stand by it, even though the numbers are so much higher now than they were then, and these numbers are the good news compared to weeks before. What a crappy time it’s been. I am still frustrated that bad policy has again and again wasted momentum we could have built upon to avert so much loss and tragedy. But such as it is, and another thing I’ve learned from the last 175 days and which I can probably share with people for whom lockdown is brand new is that it will probably get worse before it gets better. But also it gets better, which is the most fundamental point and reason to keep going. And this is what we can take away from those who’ve been through it before.

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