Talking point: Lockdown has shown the importance of togetherness
I spoke to my parents this morning. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have the incalculably precious option of picking up the phone and, seconds later, hearing their voices at the end of the line.
I can read them my six-year-old’s latest composition and hear them crease up at the unintentionally funny bits. I can share their relief at Donald Trump’s political passing and hear their long-lens perspective on it. I can still turn to them, in their 80s, for their wisdom and support.
Everyone has been affected by this pitiless pandemic somehow. But there is a gulf of experience between some individuals and others.
COVID has brought us together with the shared experience of lockdown but has also divided us by sorting the population, capriciously and randomly, into the casualties and the (so far) spared.
Last week, we passed a milestone that once seemed unimaginable, of 100,000 lives lost to COVID, each one a parent, partner, child or friend. It’s an incomprehensible degree of grief and human suffering.
Dispatches from the NHS frontline describe the distress of staff as previously fit and healthy people succumb, one after another after another.
Families convulsed by grief urge others to stay at home and keep themselves safe: “Don’t end up like us.”
Then there are the walking wounded. Thousands have been poleaxed by long COVID.
Still others have been struck down by mental illness. The virus has turned every home into a stronghold, every threshold into a frontier, making each interaction with the outside world seem like a potentially fatal breach of the defences.
This, alongside the social isolation and the 24-hour churn of bad news, has created the perfect conditions for an epidemic of anxiety and depression, leaving unknown numbers tormented by a presentiment of doom.
Those are only the direct impacts. Many more are struggling with severely reduced incomes and unemployment, and are perhaps unable to see a path out.
And yet, as this tragic tableau plays out, for others there is light and laughter. They will look back on this period as a time of worry and inconvenience, but also of peace and togetherness. They will remember the new recipes they tried, the new walking routes they discovered, the old friends they connected with and, for some, the sheer joy of spending time at home with their partner or children, work-life balance notwithstanding.
I’ve heard it again and again during this benighted time, and expressed it myself: a guilty admission that the kids are OK and so are the parents; that – whisper it – lockdown’s not been so bad.
COVID-19 hasn’t finished with us. Some of those who think they’ve escaped, will not. But that gulf of experience will continue.
Those who are lucky enough to avoid the worst effects of COVID still have a critical role to play, caring for and supporting the less fortunate in whatever way possible, practically, emotionally and financially.
And perhaps this could have a lasting effect. For years pre-COVID, our society was polarised and riven with intolerance, but maybe the pandemic will help us relearn the habits of respect, empathy and above all, humility.
Even as we’ve been studiously avoiding each other, our need for each other has never been clearer.