A Meditation on Socializing in a Plague Year
We instinctively protected our friends from the knowledge we possessed…We were sure that they didn't want to know what we knew; we didn't want to know it, either.
-Alexsander Hemon, "The Aquarium"
He can contain the fears of other men, and give them a sense of solidity in a quaking world.
-Hilary Mantel, "Wolf Hall"
Labor Day Weekend. We had planned to eat outside with friends but the weather turned cool under a louring sky, as Charlotte Bronte described it. We almost cancelled but then went ahead. We drove up the Thruway to Saugerties to a renovated farm house set on ten acres. Horse country, a getaway home of two city friends. They had wanted to celebrate my husband's birthday in mid-August but couldn't make it to the barbecue. So, this was yet another celebration with a balloon and a cake, sumptuous food, and wine, held-in stories spilling rapidly, breathlessly, even though we'd kept in touch on phone and zoom and email.
So, we were indoors with the windows wide open, six of us in a small space, all vaccinated, but there'd been recent travel beyond the borders of the state and the nation state, much needed travel to see family after the long Covid hiatus. Had anyone brought the Delta variant home with them? We didn't voice this concern, and for the moment, we didn't care about any potential danger. Was there any? Were we being care—less? Is the protective vaccine waning? Of a certain age, shall we say—and how can we ignore it these days, a target on our backs—only my husband and I had landed boosters; we encouraged our friends to do the same.
It seemed as though every few paragraphs of shared stories, we'd redound to the pandemic, and to the logistics of staying safe in the months ahead as we move around, carry on regardless. The numbers of breakthroughs don't look good; 80 active cases this week in our small town, the SUNY students back on campus, and all the other schools starting, kids under twelve still unvaccinated, a FB photo from a friend of a Covid infected baby girl in the ICU and an admonition to pray for her. I wish prayer would help. I wish everything and anything would help persuade those who are unvaccinated, especially, to get it done. No soft landings for anyone during a pandemic, a democratizing experience in some ways depending on individual circumstance—money, shelter, access to medical care. Yet, among all strata, classes and castes, there are many heartbreaking stories.
The conversation at the converted farmhouse was kinetic, joyful, suffused with laughter. The vegetable garden was overgrown, lots of kale and basil to pick, some homemade ice cream with blueberries, avocado, honey, the end of summer's bounty folded into the menu. How much we'd missed the physicality of connection, bodies in three dimension, hair a bit grayer, bodies bulging from Covid indulgence in home-cooked meals. How privileged we all were to have survived this ordeal, we agreed. None in this immediate cohort were in mourning for a loved one, though we all had suffered losses—of time, of income, of insularity from a troubled world. No such thing anymore, surely this has now clarified: Virus Without Borders. The New York Times reports this morning that we won't feel respite until next summer, that the worst of the pandemic will not be in the rear-view mirror until then.
Best to steel ourselves, stiff upper lips, remain calm and carry on, as the Brits would say, and how I do love them for that. It's not always an appropriate response, but I think it is at this moment of disappointment, the euphoria of vaccination evaporated.
Did we bring this plague on ourselves? Or the exacerbation of the plague, at least? Are we in any way responsible? And where does our individual responsibility reside? Are we so enamored of our post-modern digital lives that we've forgotten we are made of organic material, embedded in nature, susceptible to fires and floods, collapsing infrastructure, a corrupt and decrepit health care system that is not a system at all, desperate migrants pushing against our borders, mega corporations continuing to exploit labor, the rich getting richer, Mother Earth under siege? What can we do right now, this very day, to contribute to the end of this pandemic? Dear Reader, all suggestions are welcome in the comments.