The Sunday Magazine

A COVID-19 confinement chronicle: week five — Michael's essay

"An important part of self-isolation is hand-washing. Some experts suggest nine or 10 times a day. My hands have never been so clean. Or so raw. Between the constant washing and the application of sanitizer, my hands have the texture of a badger — not that I have much contact with badgers these days."

'The lockdown is not only a test of our mettle, it is a test of our character'

Signs have been placed around Fredericton trails reminding people to practise physical distancing. (Gary Moore/CBC)

A neighbour five backyards down has a trampoline.

Every day like clockwork, a young boy starts bouncing. I can just make out his face as he bounces above the fence. His smile is beaming. It may last only a second or two, but that mid-air moment is unalloyed freedom.

But I get to thinking about the mother in a two-bedroom apartment with three kids under the age of 10 — no trampoline for them.

Or the old people trapped in the killing ground of a long-term care home. Or the bus driver or nurse or grocery clerk forced to work and testing death on every shift.

Whatever novelty there was contained in self-incarceration has long since worn off. Tempers are frayed.

We are starting to get on each other's nerves. We are becoming testy, impatient. We're not sure anymore what the rules of quarantine are.

Liquor sales are up. So are reports of violence to women by male partners.

The lockdown is not only a test of our mettle, it is a test of our character.

Experts tell us not to let the grudges fester. Regular family meetings to air grievances may help.

Whatever novelty there was contained in self-incarceration has long since worn off. Tempers are frayed.- Michael Enright- Michael Enright

I keep telling myself to breathe slowly, don't get mad, be nice, be cordial. Count to 10 or 100 if you have to.

If you can manage it, find a place, a corner or a nook of some kind with nobody around. Sit there for five minutes and listen to a piece of music.

Can't hurt.

An important part of self-isolation is hand-washing. Some experts suggest nine or 10 times a day. My hands have never been so clean. Or so raw. Between the constant washing and the application of sanitizer, my hands have the texture of a badger — not that I have much contact with badgers these days.

By the way, we are supposed to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds. Or as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. I hate Happy Birthday. So try this. The opening measures of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue are exactly 20 seconds. Much better than the odious Happy Birthday.

Toronto drivers, as we all know, are the worst in Canada: rude, reckless, incompetent road ragers.

It was only a matter of time before they would use the pandemic-emptied streets as race tracks. Stunt driving and speeding are on the increase in a major way. Even the mayor of Toronto, who has always said he is against a war on cars, has condemned the speed demons.

According to police, speeding offences have increased almost 30 per cent over the same period last year.

Death is something to be recognized in ceremony and in ritual. Human beings have been doing it for millennia. But in self-quarantine, there is almost nothing to be done.- Michael Enright- Michael Enright

Stunt driving offences, where the driver is going more than 50 kilometres an hour over the speed limit, have more than doubled over last year. One driver crashed his car, apparently driving at 160 kilometres per hour in a 30-kilometres-per-hour zone.

Pandemic or no pandemic, some things never change.

A good friend died alone in his apartment this week. Aside from all the eschatological mysteries of the event, there is the question of how death is to be marked in the age of the pandemic.

Death is something to be recognized in ceremony and in ritual. Human beings have been doing it for millennia. But in self-quarantine, there is almost nothing to be done. Ceremonies are impossible. Places of worship are closed. There are no funerals. No wakes. Has death become a non-essential service?

Grief and mourning in the plague year — it's something we will explore in a future program.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full essay.

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