I want to be clear about that. This global pandemic has so far cost us more than a million lives directly, and the indirect cost is still being tallied. The aftereffects of this, particularly on those already vulnerable, will be felt for generations to come. This very physical threat has also badly impacted on most people’s financial, mental, and emotional health. Again, those effects are more strongly felt by those already suffering – those sleeping rough or barely making enough to keep a roof over their heads, those trapped at home with violence and abuse, the disenfranchised already being exploited by uncaring and unethical employers.
But there have been positive changes also, changes I hope we never find a vaccine for. Humans being social by nature and nurture, isolation has highlighted the desire of many for interaction with others. I’ve had more meaningful conversations with strangers on the street or on my daily walks than pre-Covid, when the focus was often on our digital devices rather than our surroundings. Social distancing has made us hyperaware of the proximity of others, and an awkward etiquette has developed as we dance the Covid rhumba, side stepping with mumbled apologies when we come too close to unknown others. We’ve learned to read a smile in facial changes above the mask, and there seems a greater tendency to acknowledge passersby with a nod or verbal greeting.
As we have become physically distant from others, I’ve noticed a growing sense of community, both offline and on. Social media remains a morass of conspiracy theories and ugly noise as we yell virtually at strangers and former friends whose political beliefs differ from ours, but there is also an abundance of sites that value compassion and kindness. A friend in the UK recommended a family lockdown page months ago and I’ve valued the sharing of stories and laughs and challenges and possible solutions. I also joined a local group where fellow postcode dwellers become true neighbours.
Despite not having children, I’ve accepted supermarket giveaways and left them in my mailbox for contactless pickup by those collecting. I’ve asked for and received help and advice when confronted by unusual situations (needing to find a Justice of the Peace or lawyer to witness a document when councils and workplaces are closed, looking for a replacement bike when shops are shut and there’s a surge in new cyclists), and tried to offer help and suggestions when I can. I’ve joined in giving recommendations for coffee, cocktails and delicious food, and relish the focus on supporting local businesses, local residents. Of knowing and looking after all our neighbours.
That sense of community and connectivity can be seen on the streets also, sometimes using social media to help physically. Like most neighbourhoods, ours has many vulnerable members, and it’s heartening to see that their presence is valued as part of our community by many of their neighbours. An online request for a microwave for one such neighbour was quickly answered with more offers than requested or needed. A neighbour who often sits outside the local supermarket had a bumper day earlier this week, being gifted multiple items by neighbours doing their own shopping. He glowed as he told me what he would be having for dinner that night, but some bananas and lime cordial would be welcome if I wanted to contribute, thanks very much.
Perhaps the economic recession caused by this virus has shown how precarious our financial situations are when the global economy shuts down, and that has enhanced our sense of empathy. Or perhaps, and I hope this is so, that empathy has always been there but we now have more time to consciously act. I hope also that this sense of community and connectivity will remain long after we have neutralised this disease.
Kindness and compassion can never be too contagious.