Coronavirus is changing the world. It’s changing the way we live our lives in a very real and physical way. It’s changing the way we think. It’s changing lives in the biggest possible way. People are dying. It is heart-breaking. Nothing will make that less so. But good stuff is also happening alongside all of the heartache and suffering. I am not a medical person or an economist or a miracle worker so I am not sure how we fix this. But I am a human. And humans need hope, so this blog post is about hope, written from Switzerland, where I live. We have been on lock-down since Friday 13 March.
Let’s start by doing nothing. It grates against our instincts. The idea that the biggest role we can play is to do nothing. To stay at home. To resist the urge to throw our arms around others. To wash our hands rather than rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty. But just as this pandemic is a reminder of how small we are, it is also the biggest reminder of how connected we are and how what we do, however small, matters. Washing our hands matters. Every time we do it, we could be saving a life. Staying away from other people matters. There is power in the simplest of acts. We can shape the way the universe goes with the smallest of acts. That’s as powerful as it is scary. Imagine if we continue to believe and apply this when the pandemic has passed.
Our need for human connection and physical touch (ask any newborn) is innate. The term ‘social distancing’ seems to challenge the very the idea of being human. But we’re filling the physical distance with something else. We’re picking up the phone to actually speak to people more than we did before the c-word entered our lexicon. We’re checking up on our neighbours. We’re buying food for others. Acts of kindness are spreading at the same rate as the virus. Yes, we have isolated, which at its root means ‘to make into an island’. We’ve become these little islands that are physically separated, but in some ways, we’re more connected than ever. We’re an archipelago. And if you’re not behaving that way yet, be an archipelago. It’s how we’ll get through this.
On this particular island, we are not a vision of paradise. We’re bumping into each other, clumsily finding a new rhythm, more by accident than design as we try to juggle kids, work, sanity and staying alive. As well as bleeding knuckles from all the hand washing, my fingers are sticking to the keyboard as I type this because, despite what the CBeebies rocket-making instructions say, not every grown up is grownup enough to use superglue.
I suspect I have peaked too early on the home-schooling front, but despite the kids not remembering what they ate for lunch today, I have an inkling that they’ll remember the time when we built a house and turned the trampoline into an aquarium, a planetarium. Or at the very least, the moment we learnt how astronauts poo in space. And they’ll remember when daddy was home for bath time every night. We may be grieving the memories we didn’t make, the many, many things that have been cancelled or postponed, the empty diaries. But what about the unique memories we are making? And have you noticed that when we can’t plan for the future, we actually succeed in living in the moment?
COVID-19 is teaching me to be a more creative, more resourceful and more present human being. It is doing what no parenting blog has succeeded in doing. I am a little ashamed to admit it but it’s true.
And do you know what, a similar thing is happening in business. Out of adversity comes innovation. Out of chaos, creativity. Big businesses are becoming entrepreneurs, problem solvers, collaborators. Businesses are doing the right thing. Not every business, granted, but there are wonderful examples amongst the rough (not denying it is rough out there). Restaurants are becoming mini supermarkets to help answer food shortages and catering lay-offs. Look at what Leon is doing with hospitality provider Absolute Taste to bring ready meals and sauces to people’s doors – and they’re inviting other restaurants and caterers to be part of it. Forget competition. The gloves are on. Literally and figuratively.
Cook have been overwhelmed with demand for their frozen ready meals and despite not taking any more orders online as I write this, they have meals which they are holding back for the vulnerable. Free of charge.
Pubs may have stopped pouring pints but what can they continue to pour into people’s lives through their social media? Some humour, some positivity, some hope? I think so. And that’s just one industry. There will be hundreds, thousands of stories like this unfolding. Remember that as you read the reports of economic Armageddon. This is not meant to downplay the economic crisis that we face but it’s a reminder that good stuff is born in times of crisis too – because of it, not just in spite of it.
And so we come to planet earth. The air is clear in Wuhan, ditto Venice’s canals. We’ve all seen it. It’s as if the planet needed a rest from humans. I’m no Attenborough but I feel calmed by the thought that the planet could heal itself and quickly, if we let it. I’m not naïve enough to think that we can halt the industries that make the stuff the modern world has convinced itself it needs despite how much it hurts the environment. But I am hopeful that this will be a stark enough lesson to us to start to change this. I was listening to a Ted Talk with Alana Shaikh – a global health expert – last week, and she explained that these pandemics will continue to come if we continue to insist on exploiting every last inch of the Earth where we come into contact with things our bodies do not know how to fight. Things we are not meant to touch. Nature is showing us and humanity must learn. I live in hope that we are not that stupid.
I’ve been devouring podcasts more than usual (another hidden benefit) and there’s a line that’s been replaying in my head from Mo Gawdat on Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail. He said (without undermining the gravity of what we face and perhaps because of it) that he is ‘optimistic that this is an eye-opening time in humanity’s life’. I am not the former chief of Google’s ‘moonshoot factory’ or a published authority on happiness like he is, but I don’t think you need to be either of these things for this statement to feel possible.
I’ve spent the last few weeks wondering if 2020 is going to be a year in parentheses. If coronavirus is going to wrap brackets around our lives, holding us captive until we can get out and carry on with the sentences that we believe are supposed to make up our life stories. But if you look at the grammatical rules of a parenthesis (stick with me, I promise it’s a good point), the material inside of the parentheses must not be grammatically integral to the surrounding sentence. COVID-19 isn’t going to be like that. We know it doesn’t respect boundaries. But more importantly, the way it is going to shape humanity, is going to be integral to the rest of the human story. If we are lucky.