For a long time I have been saying what a wonderful life and what fantastic luck I have had, to have been alive at a time when I haven`t had to go through any wars, not personally anyway. The wars I have heard about have been far away and have not touched my life in any damaging way. I have not known a World War as my parents and grandparents did. I have not lived in a country being invaded or under siege.
I still say it, although in somewhat of a state of shock. Covid19, the Coronavirus whose worldwide attack we are now all suffering from in greater or lesser degree is about to prove me wrong. There are no bombs or helicopters, no invading armies shooting at each other, no canons bombarding buildings and shelters… yet we are under attack, the human race as a whole. Yesterday, Spain declared a State of Emergency with which special powers were given to the government to close down every non-vital business and center, meaning only supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open for business; France is now following suit, closing restaurants and social gathering places and discouraging travel.
It is a strange feeling, a feeling of being under attack by an invisible enemy; a feeling of something lurking unseen in every corner. Everyone in town has stopped the customary kissing of everyone else, handshakes are out too. We say ‘hello’ to people we care about from a distance, we wash our hands so many times a day they are dry and cracked, we open public doors with our elbows, and now, we find ways to not leave our homes.
Internet becomes our umbilical cord to the world, our phones –always important- are now life-lines to our loved ones nearby and far away, and even to neighbors as we stop leaving our houses. It is strange… the enemy is invisible, soundless, scentless… It could be a story, fake news… yet we know it is real.
There is a strange feeling of apprehension and also of underlying awe at the grandiosity of the whole threat. Suddenly, there is the understanding, with a great amount of disbelief and a frisson of excitement, that we may be living a turning point in history, a shift for humanity… For the better? For the worse?
As the countries of Europe curl in upon themselves like threatened snails while being told they are now the epicenter of the pandemic, I sit in my little French town and wait for news to get to me the same way it has since three years ago when I stopped watching or listening to it on television or radio, or reading newspapers: by way of mouth. Someone sends me a text message: restaurants, cafés and the like ordered closed in France; Spain shuts down… The frontier is probably closed. From someone else, a set of rules arrives on how to best avoid contagion. Over and over again we are told to wash our hands as if we were dirty little children rushing in from the playground. It is all unreal; there is a feeling of living in a bubble that will burst any moment and we will discover it has all been a bad dream.
I awoke at 5 a.m. this morning. My nose was all stopped up (“the corona virus does not affect the nostrils the way a common cold does”)… still; I decide it is just this allergy I have had for some time now, but the feeling of fear persists. I am alone; it is 5 in the morning… what if? I cough a couple of times… Is it a wet or a dry cough? I cough again… yes, there is a little wetness in it. Whew!
The emergency number: is it 212, 211, 112,121…? ¡fuck! What is wrong with my memory… It is 112. I would dial 112 and they would ask me in what language I want to be spoken to. Should I say ‘French’ and run the risk of getting confused or not being able to describe my symptoms adequately, or ‘Spanish’ and run the risk of being switched back to French when they ask me where I am located. “¡Stop! It is 5 a.m. Just breathe deeply and go back to sleep.” Breathe… is that deeply enough, am I having trouble breathing deeply? I take a few more breaths and they seem adequate; I turn over on my back. My nose clears immediately and before I know it I have gone back to sleep and awoken at 8:30 this morning.
Today I get a message: “embrace your fear, don’t try to push it away”… Yes, that is good: treat yourself like a frightened child, don’t stress, wash your hands, stay away from public places, eat well, wash your hands, breathe deeply…
There is an incredulity about all this. Here it is: the 15th of March 2020, the year of great visibility, the year we should be seeing clearly (20-20 vision), and I sit in wonder of what it is that we will be seeing tomorrow and the next day, and the next. Last night, as I watched a movie, I noticeD how reality had become much more Hollywood than Hollywood, more unpredictable than the best plots.
Today I take a walk through town. Salomé –my schnauzer- thinks we are going for a coffee and her usual biscuit, but the coffee shops are closed, the restaurants are closed (one has a sign on the door saying they with attend ‘take-away’ but there is no telephone number), the stores are closed because it is Sunday but they will be closed again tomorrow and the next day and the next… The town is almost empty of people in spite of the fact it is a beautiful spring day, warm and sunny. We walk through the semi-deserted town and on home where I give Salomé a compensation biscuit.
I can’t concentrate, on movies, books, my daily chores, the memoires I am writing… It is as if I am waiting, waiting without knowing what it is I am waiting for; a state of suspended animation, a stillness that is filled with sudden starts.
There is a sense of expectation, as if something were about to happen, as if someone were going to come knocking at my door suddenly to announce the first case of Coronavirus to be diagnosed in Salies, a wonderment about what everyone is doing in their individual lives now that we are under attack. Do I have enough food to last out the lockdown? Will I be affected by the virus…? Will the bookstore stay open? What about the bank? Will someone let me know when it is all over? Will it ever be all over?
Yes, I was grateful that I had lived a lifetime without war… and I am still grateful even though I now find myself –at 78- involved in the strangest, most unknown war of all: the war against an invisible enemy. I sigh and fall back on old ways of coping: take it One Day at a Time, Let go, let God… trust that this too shall pass.