I have been trying to write something about covid for over a year, and have almost finished several short essays, but have not quite been able to work it out. I have so many thoughts and ideas that need writing down, that I need to work through and share in this way, and yet I am scared to do so. A lot of what I’m going to say here is going to be partial, incomplete, not quite right, and maybe just wrong. But I’m so hungry for this conversation and dialogue that I’m going to take this plunge.
Covid seems to me to be a new avenue or axis of political struggle, analysis, and terrain, and with that come all the same difficult conversations and rending in the fabric of relationships precisely when we need them most. I have lost a couple of my closest and longest friendships in the last two years, and other friendships seem to be teetering on the brink. I haven’t handled everything the best and I know most of us are struggling in various ways. So, although I have started writing several times, I haven’t been brave enough to finish a lot of it. But there is so much gaslighting and half-truths about what’s really going on out there that it remains critical to my own survival, and I believe that of a lot of other people, to keep trying to talk out loud about what’s real and what actions, solutions, campaigns, and types of care are needed.
For me, covid has been a moment of absolute rupture. That doesn’t mean that a lot of these things were not happening before – the nexus of infectious disease, global inequality, disability, and climate crisis is not new. But at least for me, this global pandemic and the climate events that have occurred during it and which have perhaps driven it have been a major alarm bell. I cannot imagine my life ever being the same again.
Although one person’s individual actions can’t change the tide and don’t cause the problem, neither are actions neutral. I spent significant time, perhaps a full year, mourning and grieving the end of life as I knew it. It is sad to let that life go, but I do not think I will be returning to it given the embodied knowledge about the intertwining disasters of climate collapse and contagious disease that I have gained in the past two years.
In fact I have spent a lot of time grieving my life, my old life, and all the dreams and plans I had for the future. Many of those plans and ideas seem almost laughable now, and unthinkably selfish. It could be that I will not keep feeling this way – perhaps there will come a time when 6,500 people per day are not dying from covid (or another infectious disease) and I will feel very differently. We seem to live in very turbulent and changing times and that calls for a lot of flexibility and patience with ourselves as well as with each other.
I think however that this kind of turbulence and rapid change calls very much for mourning and acknowledging the changes. For me it has been personally critical to make the decision that there is no “going back to before” and that my old life (including my hopes for the future) has vanished. This is not all sad; the last two years have also been a time of growth, discovering skills I wasn’t sure I had, and working on some other abilities that need strengthening.
Without romanticizing the first two pandemic years, where millions have died and millions more have lots their loved ones and their health, it’s also important to remember there were also some gains made in the last two years. We should not want to go along with “getting back.” “Getting back” strikes me as an inherently conservative idea that also takes us back to a world without eviction moratoriums; where you owe the government interest payments on your education; where the government does not offer you unqualified payments so you can eat; and where more public money goes to the police for the purpose of advertising their effectiveness and arming themselves against us rather than for education, water, or anything that serves the purpose of life. It is in the interest of elites – the rich, the politicians, and the media that they control – that we all “get back” to how things were. And it looks as if other people, namely middle-class white people, are most focused on getting themselves isolated from covid or its more serious effects, rather than working to protect everyone. Maybe this is obvious or predictable, but it is nonetheless sad, infuriating, frustrating, and enraging.
Of the many things that I am working actively on, I am struggling with how to do all of the following at once: hold on to principled forms of action and ethics for myself in difficult circumstances, how to remain in movement and community, how to keep punching up instead of down or across, not be judgmental, and think about helpful structures of accountability when something has social consequences. I am not great at this and none of it is easy. For me, one of the more isolating aspects of covid has been the inability to have these conversations and the seeming collective amnesia as the US has moved through different phases. It feels like lessons are not being collectively carried forward. Even if this pandemic is an unpleasant experience (of course it is), there have been some critical public health and other lessons! I am left with big questions like: why haven’t more people learned to take (or give) sick days yet? why aren’t we taking better care of ourselves and each other after two years of this? why aren’t more of us re-thinking the implications of travel in more fundamental ways, beyond just the current travel regulations or even covid?
I write this as an attempt to find or re-connect with folks who want to have these conversations. I believe now, as I have for a long time, that we need honesty and that we need each other.