May 12. ‘Brenda in Hove’s thoughtful May 9 entry ‘In Transition’ focussed on lives suspended by the crisis, with no certainty about what would happen when they were recommenced. There is a more general point here about time and the pandemic.
Much of the media commentary, in print and particularly on television, assumes that the experiences that are being described are entirely novel. Whilst there have been flu epidemics in the relatively recent past, these exist only as a distant memory. Individuals are presented as if they are encountering bereavement, loneliness, overcrowded interiors, children home from school (there were endless school holidays in olden times), poverty, unemployment, illness and fear of illness, for the first time in their lives. Of course, the intensity of these events has suddenly increased, but for the most part individuals are navigating the crisis on the basis of established maps of expectations and behaviours, however much these now need to be modified.
The degree of familiarity varies. In hospitals, for instance, there are cohorts of doctors and nurses for whom death is an event which they have been trained to cope with. There is now more of it, staff are at much greater risk, and negotiating between dying patients and distraught relatives has become more complex, but if the chosen specialism is, say, cancer, it comes with the territory. On the other hand, there are those who made the career choice of, say, orthopaedics, perhaps because patient mortality was rare, who have been suddenly transferred to Covid-19 wards and are wholly unprepared for the experience. Similarly care home workers know all about death, and in my limited experience of my mother’s final days, can be singularly unemotional about it. What is new, again, is the scale and the threat to their own lives.
For a retired but still labouring historian, it is the case that I have been locked down, with occasional escapes, for years, and from day to day, barely notice the change. How I have spent my past, what I have chosen to do, how I have learned to celebrate the merits of my way of life and manage its demerits, are fundamental to my present experience and how I will emerge from it. My point is not to diminish the drama and the scale of suffering. Just that if we are to understand the coping strategies that are being adopted, we need to know about the skills, capacities and plans which in their different ways, everyone is bringing to the struggle.
- Readers of my May 6 entry on Box of Provisions will be pleased to know that in spite of a further attempt to stop the service, a new box was delivered yesterday morning. Off it goes to the food bank, though I am sorely tempted by the loaf of sliced white bread sitting on top. Such degenerate food has been banned in our household for decades. But it remains a secret pleasure. There are some things, like eggy bread or bacon sandwiches (doubly forbidden), for which soft, chemical-infused white bread is just essential. Otherwise the relentless efficiency of this service amidst the chaos remains a puzzle. There will, however, be some for whom the box is the difference between eating and not-eating, so it is perhaps as well that it keeps coming.