Well here we are. Hello. All of our human hearts, beating. Except when they stop.
Sometime back in mid-January, I started reading about the coronavirus. Soon, I couldn’t stop reading about what was happening in Wuhan. How terrifying it was. I started to obsessively wash my hands. By the beginning of February, my eldest boy had started picking up Lego with one of the youngest’s baby wipes, saying confidently, ‘Mummy, look! I won’t catch any germs this way.’
I went too far, constantly talking about hand-washing. I made them feel alarmed. The eldest, especially. He’s become a little fixated on death. He’s fascinated about the Titanic, and about Hitler. This is partly because he’s always demanding that I ‘tell him facts about history’ and my knowledge is sketchy even though I aced history at school. It was my favourite subject. Fascinating stories. But real.
Now we are living through history.
Late last year, I started this thing of thanking my former self. Just for small tasks or actions. For example, I’d clean the kitchen a little extra before I went to bed (by that I mean, clean it like a normal person and not a slovenly harlot), and in the morning I would be like ‘Well thank you, Jacqueline of last night, you have made my life so much more pleasant this morning.’ I’d use it for the utter drudgery, like folding laundry, putting it away neatly instead of leaving it in desperate stressy piles. I’d be so grateful to my sage self of yesterday, that thoughtful person who’d crisply folded my kids’ clothes and put them away, ready for the next day of spilling succulent spaghetti sauce and rolling in the ink black mud.
I also used it in parenting, finding that minute moment before I lost my shit and expanding it, or even just acknowledging it was there. Thank you, former self, for not viciously verbally attacking your sweet babies because you are tired, not coping, whatever. Thank you for the silence instead.
Now I wonder, through all of this, what can I thank my former self for? What can I contribute? Like many, I feel helpless. I’m not going out to the frontline every day, every night, and potentially exposing myself to this frightening virus, which is killing people, old and young. I’m not saving lives. I don’t work in a supermarket.
I think about the people who are dying. I read on the news: 839 people have died here, 381 there. And I think about my beautiful beloved uncle, who died on March 6. He didn’t die of Covid-19, but there he was. Laid out in his coffin. Such a perfect expression on his face, exactly the same one as he had on his face when he was alive. He was smiling, his eyes crinkled up at the corners. He radiated love, as he did when he was alive.
The tens of thousands of people who have died. The twenties of thousands more who loved them desperately. The people who died alone. The people who are dying alone.
The things we can do are so very tiny, but so very large. We can just keep hunkering down, keeping our families safe as best we can. We can help people who need tiny-big things – just a bit of shopping, or conversation. I just met Phyllis the other day. She’s in her 90s. She’s my neighbour. I didn’t know that until recently, when I saw her at the window nine doors down as I walked by. She wanted to talk about the neighbour’s cat who kept coming around to be double-fed. We talked about that, and I said I’d see her again on my next loop around the square.
I want to help. I want to thank my former self for not burying her head in the sand in this crisis.
We feel helpless, but we can help. We have to.